From the Basement

October 15, 2010

In praise of the Great Restorer, the Giver of Rest

God works in mysterious ways. He’s used a job offer – the thing I wanted, prayed for, desired for months on end – to lead me back to Him.

I’m not taking the job, and that is incredibly freeing. I’m declining for aforementioned reasons – budget and timeline issues – but, more importantly, because there are things happening here, where I am, that lead me to believe this is what He has for me. Worldly wisdom says take a job, any job. Worldly wisdom says it’s necessary to live independently.

But living with my parents, healing my relationships with them, releasing the baggage from the divorce – this is one of the healthiest steps I can take for my marriage.

Living at home, saving money, putting it aside for the early days of marriage, for our first month’s rent, for an emergency savings fund – this is an investment in my marriage.

I want to volunteer. I want to be donating money and tithing. My prayer tonight is Lord, bring me to you. Please let me serve you – for the first time in months… years?… this is the prayer. Where can you best use me? I don’t think it’s at the place where I was offered the job, where an “ideal” employee was described as someone who burns the candle at both ends, a single person working tirelessly into the night.

I had a wonderful conversation tonight with my friend Kayla, a great blessing who is willing to act as a sounding board for my many questions and curvaceous conversations (in that thoughts tend to twist and turn in unusual directions to get to their point).

There are changes that need to happen in my life re: discipline with body, mind, and soul… but God has me… this is where He’s put me, for some reason… for His reason, for His glory, ever for His glory.

The events of the last few months defy worldly wisdom. The decision to turn down a full-time job defies worldly wisdom. Abba, I beg your peace and strength. I pray against weakness and fear and anxiety. You will provide. In all things, you provide. You are Jehovah Jireh but also Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and it is your mission to heal and restore your people to yourself that you may be glorified and we may be filled with the joy that comes in knowing you. Where is the joy? Follow the joy. While there are opportunities to pursue my calling, I will not relent. I do not want to settle for anything less than Your very best, and I know that Your very best does not necessarily come with a hefty paycheck and a worldly definition of success. It does not necessarily come with independence, a car, an apartment, etc. Your provision and hope come in unusual ways – but they come; that is the promise, that is the everlasting promise.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Today, my reading in Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am? was in the “Do You Know I Am Worn Out? He Does Not Grow Weary” chapter. How fitting. After last night’s emotional exhaustion followed by today’s confusion, worry, and fear, I was feeling very worn out. Thomas opens the chapter by quoting Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester: “I am worn to a raveling.” How my body collapsed in exhausted understanding upon reading that line. I am worn to a raveling. Oh, I am. The chapter’s title fit today: do you know I am worn out, Lord? Do you know I feel too tired to make any decision?

But Thomas reminds us that God’s character is self-sustaining (69). He does not grow weary; indeed, he provides the rest we so desperately seek.

“But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Oh, how I long to run and not grow weary! Today, the longing to serve the Lord, loving people, is at the forefront of my desire. Today, the desire for a “good” job is secondary. A job that will provide for my present needs and help store up for my fiance’s and my future – yes. But something that will serve a higher purpose. His purpose. Let today’s rest sustain into tomorrow.

Lord, let me rest in you. I pray against those spirits of anxiety and fear that so seek to take root in my heart. You have me right where you want me. And sometimes, as Kayla said tonight, we are challenged to have the courage to remain where we are – ever pushing towards the goal, our eyes unwavering in their focus on their Creator, ignoring the world’s distractions, trusting in the only One who both offers and renews our hope.

Thomas puts it beautifully: “A hope that is firmly centered on the Lord renews our strength” (70). How true. My body wearies, my mind grows faint, my emotions fluctuate, and the world itself is always spinning, but He remains constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever, an ever-replenished spring of healing, restorative water. He does not grow weary. He provides the comfort and love and rest we so desperately seek. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Advertisements

August 5, 2010

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

July 16, 2010

On Writing & Grief

Filed under: Family,Writing — jeannablue @ 6:28 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Up until last night, the writing was not going well this week – prayer writing, blog writing, fiction writing. This has been hampered in part by exhaustion and in part by my own crazy expectations, but mostly because of the frightening illness that struck our 3-year-old cat, Lucy. She passed away late Wednesday night, and we got the call Thursday morning from the vet that she had died.

Strangely enough, I think that Lucy’s death has driven me back to writing. The week has been so clouded with uncertainty surrounding her illness that the clarity of her death was almost welcome – she’s out of pain, and there is an end to the madness that permeated the house. We said our goodbyes, and she is now buried in the backyard with a pinwheel marking her grave (stone marker to follow).

Where before the house was emotionally frantic, we are now settling down. There is sadness, and pain, and loss – especially for my mom – but things are coming back down to normal, whatever normal is.

Maybe the release of grief and frustration helped unlock the creative recesses of my brain, but the last 15 hours, say, have been a firestorm – not necessarily of writing (though I have been doing that) but rather of figuring out what the story is about. There’s a key event in the past that I didn’t know, and now I do. I feel like I can proceed so much more smoothly, knowing what it is that’s driving the heroine toward her present course of action.

Another thing that helped free the ideas was pictures. I don’t do this very often, but late last night I stumbled across a recommendation to go through magazines looking for pictures of your characters. I found many pictures, only a few that I know definitively are my characters, but that’s more than I had before, and seeing multiple pictures of them – even possibilities – was so encouraging, so inspiring.

I am well aware that losing a pet is not like losing a person, but there is a palpable sense of loss in a house that comes with the death of a beloved pet. And today, I am filling that sense of loss with writing, with experiencing my characters’ grief rather than my own, dealing with their families instead of mine. It’s times like this I am very grateful I have a story to disappear into.

July 14, 2010

Pet Owners, don’t buy Terro!

Our beloved kitty Lucy is deathly ill and has been overnight at the vet’s for the last few days. She wasn’t eating or drinking; my mom was force-feeding her water over the weekend before we could get her to the vet. She has ulcerations on her tongue that made it excruciatingly painful for her to eat or drink. She’s been hooked up to IVs for the last few days. When she got to the vet, she was dehydrated and her kidneys had begun to shut down.

Yesterday, she was doing better. Today, she’s worse. The vet’s guess is extensive kidney damage.

The reason? She got into the liquid ant traps my mom had set around the house. Terro is the brand. They say they’re pet safe, but they are not – the vet confirmed that the ant traps gave our poor cat chemical burns. My mom is beating herself up for not calling our vet to make sure the traps were okay for pets.

If you have pets, don’t buy Terro! We are hoping and praying that our kitty makes it.

June 5, 2010

Daddy’s Songs

These are Daddy’s songs. They’re songs about Daddy, songs I associate with Daddy, songs that will always be his. I realize that this would be a great post to save for Father’s Day, but patience is not one of my virtues. I’m workin’ on that.

You Learn – Alanis Morisette

My memory of Daddy and this song is driving along that backway highway we’d take home from Waterloo, driving back from the Blacks building where Daddy had his office, my 8-year-old self belting out I recommend walkin’ around naked in your living ro-oo-oom while Daddy chuckled.

My dad loved (loves) Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill album. There’s this strange dichotomy to his musical taste: on the one hand, he loves classic rock. He was literally there for the KISS concerts, the mania surrounding the Rolling Stones and all those other bands. My sister inherited those genetics; she’s not even 20-years-old and knows more about classic rock than most Baby Boomers. (She also has a mildly dangerous obsession with Bruce Springsteen.)

On the other hand, though, my dad loves Alanis Morisette, Natalie Merchant, Pat Benatar, Amy MacDonald, the Indigo Girls, Jewel. Alternative female rockers, singer/songwriters. That’s the gene I got. And I think that the JLP album started it all.

On a side note,. I re-discovered JLP in Dad’s collection as a 14 or 15-year-old, and was totally shocked when I listened to “You Oughta Know.” It was then when I realized that Dad did indeed censor the music he let his girls listen to.

My Own Prison – Creed

The last time my boyfriend and I were driving back from his parents’ house, we were listening to Creed (the compromise between my alternative singer/songwriters and his heavy metal). When this song finished playing, he asked me why exactly it’s my favorite Creed song, since even with the biblical imagery, it’s pretty dark. And it’s true – friends who know me would not think this was one of my favorite songs.

It’s simple, really– it’s Daddy’s song. This is one of his favorite Creed tracks, and even though it applies a lot more to him than it does to me, it’s become one of mine.

Omaha – Counting Crows

August & Everything After is an album that I’ve reclaimed from my childhood in that it has a place in my present, not only in my past. But this song – Omaha – always takes me back to our years in Iowa, a time when there was fried chicken for lunch every Sunday, when I didn’t know how hard my parents had it. We lived on an acreage that butted up against a narrow highway no one took if they could help it. There were beautiful sunsets over the corn and soybean fields every night, and even though this song is named after a city in Nebraska, the texture of it, for me, is all Iowa.

Hammer Down – Ted Nugent

This was our before-bed song growing up. Daddy changed the lyrics to be: jammies jammies jammies, jammies on! Jammies on! Jammies on! – And so my younger sister and I would race as fast as we could to get our jammies on.

Time of Your Life – Green Day

August 1998. I can’t remember which day. We were driving back home after going to the Iowa State Fair when we got the call from my dad’s sister that my grandpa had died. At that point in my life, I’d never seen my dad cry like that. Mom volunteered to drive. He refused. And he drove us all the way home, the grief palpable even to two little girls in the backseat who didn’t really know about death and dying.

This was the song that was playing on the radio when we got the call.

Hotel California – Eagles

So this is a song that rock radio stations feels compelled to play at least six times a day. It annoys the shit out of me, because people, it’s been over thirty years.

That aside.

I am listing this song because Dad loves the drum solo and every time we listen to it we’re either in his work vehicle or in the kitchen drinking beer. And he does the drum solo with his hands no matter where we are. Most people love the guitar riff which, while awesome, has nothing on Don Henley. Doing the Hotel California drum solo in the car is an art, one which I am slowly perfecting.

People Are Crazy – Billy Currington

This is a country song, but Dad loves it and recently informed me (and my boyfriend, and one of my best friends, and anyone else who visits him) that he wants it played at his funeral. The chorus is pretty much his life philosophy: God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy. … Yup.

Sweet Suzanne – John Mellencamp, et al.

This song is from the soundtrack to the film Falling From Grace, a terrible movie (I’ve heard) which got virtually no attention. It was only by chance that Dad heard a song from the soundtrack, and he fell in love with it. This song was our dancing song – his, my sister’s, mine. We’d twirl and twirl and twirl to it. “I just wanted to say goodnight, Suzanne/I just wanted to say good night/I just wanted to see if everything’s all right/I just wanted to say goodnight, Suzanne.”

The one thing I always knew about my wedding (if I had one), was that at the reception (if I had one), this would be the father/daughter dance.

April 30, 2010

Freedom & Family

It is the greatest longing of my heart to walk every day fully in the loving freedom that Christ so generously gives. Freedom to love, freedom to write, freedom to express, freedom to move, freedom to live without condemnation. For there is no condemnation for those who walk in Christ Jesus – who the son sets free is free indeed! His love and mercy covers all of our sin; he offers us the chance to come cleanly before God.

It’s such an awesome gift. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I’m grateful for it. The struggle – mine, at least – is living it out day by day.

There are a lot of things in this world that can cramp the freedom that Jesus gives. Fear, anger, loneliness, bitterness, mistrust, anxiety, and a variety of other sins can leave us feeling less than free – we walk in the shadow of sin rather than the shadow of His wing. And that is no place for anyone to walk. But sometimes, those shadows feel so powerful.

I think one of the most difficult shadows we can live under is that of our family, be it our family history, our past mistakes, our family members’ past mistakes, or just difficulties in general. Heck, it could even be under the pressure of having to live up to your family! And for every Cleaver family, I bet you that any one of us can point to dozens and dozens of “broken homes” and, of course, the people who come from them.

Quick aside: I’ve never much liked the term “broken homes.” First off, it sounds like it can’t be fixed. And I don’t like that. Love covers a multitude of sins, and our faith guarantees us a redeeming love, a redeeming power – the love that can cast out bitterness and brokenness, love that can heal. So I don’t much care for the term “broken home.” Also, there’s the simple fact that it puts homes in a binary opposition: they’re either broken or whole, and it seems to be a naive assumption that there’s such thing as a totally-broken or totally-whole home. As an old pastor of mine once said, “Everybody’s walking on broken floors.” Everybody – even the Cleavers – has some issue they have dealt with or are dealing with that has affected their family. So no, I don’t much care for the word “broken” in this application, but seeing as it’s so prevalent in our culture, you all get what I mean when I say it.

This was one of my greatest spiritual struggles during my freshman year of college. I was away from my family for the first time, away from the pain and the fights and the grievances. Basically, I felt a lot of guilt: guilt and pain at being separated from my then-15-year-old sister, who was still in the middle of everything; guilt for not being able to be there for my mom, as I had been for so many years; and guilt for feeling, above all, a sense of relief and freedom, that I was finally out from under my parents’ roof.

But I continued to carry my family’s burdens with me. I’d been carrying them for so long that it was normal. I had lengthy conversations with my mom, listening to her, and there was one particularly vitriolic argument I had with my dad on the phone. My sister started to say things like, “You don’t understand. You don’t live here anymore.” And all the while, I was trying to form a new life with new habits, better habits, cleaner habits. But I was still parked firmly under my family’s shadow. Even away from them, I did not feel free. I was relieved, yes, but not free.

During second semester, God started to pull out all the stops. There were these tiny study booths at the end of the hall (we called ’em phone booths since people only used them to talk on the phone). One night, I was in a phone booth with my friend Laura, a source of great spiritual strength and comfort, and I was bawling my eyes out about my family, railing on about abuse and addiction and awful marriages and all those things I was sure I was never going to get away from. I can’t remember our whole conversation, but I do remember that at one point, she looked me square in the eye and said, “God is bigger than family history.”

It felt like a slap in the face, but that was one of the first moments where I remember being forced to reckon with the fact that God is bigger, and that if I wasn’t letting him in, that meant that I didn’t think he was who he said he was. It meant I was proud. It meant I was refusing healing from Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. … Ouch.

Soon after, I was talking with a senior, Jessika, who really mentored me that year. She gave me a copy of Do You Think I’m Beautiful? by Angela Thomas. I’ve mentioned the book in this blog before, and I even think I mentioned the thing that most spoke to me. Her discussion of our sacks of ashes – how we carry those sacks around for so long, bent over so far, not knowing what way is up, just knowing that we’re very, very comfortable carrying it around. I realized the extent to which I’d been carrying my family’s ashes around and that – wow – I didn’t have to. Those burdens can be laid at Christ’s feet, a fact I knew but hadn’t grasped.

And then the women’s bible study went to the Women of Faith conference, and that year’s theme was Amazing Freedom. go figure. So yes – God did wonders in my life that semester. Wonders that started me on the path to freedom.

Four years later, I have been freed in so many ways, but, living at home, I find myself in a different struggle. It’s the struggle of having had everything change – your perspective as well as the family itself (divorce) – and yet still being surrounded by… is the ghosts of yesteryear too Dickensian? Without going into too much detail, it’s become a struggle for me to try and love on my family and remain free from taking on the burdens. Whenever I do, fights happen. And there have been fights this month, with my parents and my sister. I’m trying to figure out how to live with them, love them, and move forward without falling into those old traps, those old places where I’d pick up a sack of mom’s and a sack of dad’s and start walking with it.

I wrote recently on the struggle to be honest in my writing – how to cull details and themes from my childhood and adolescence without causing pain to my family. A part of me is very afraid of hurting them, upsetting them.

But I can’t go back under that shadow. I love my family, but I love my Creator more. And He loves my family so much! I’m learning how to honor and respect my parents (perhaps for the first time, honestly) and how to love my sister while remaining free – free from what they think of me, free from their opinion, free even from their own personal struggles. I cannot take on their pain. I can only deal with mine, and the best way to do that is to lay it all before the throne of Jesus and say “Here! Take it! I don’t want it!”

And then he takes it, and he gives beauty for ashes. How cool is that? How blessed we are to have such a loving, loving God!

It seems that the sources of struggle in our lives can evolve in their nature just as we mature and evolve in our faith. The good news is that Jesus is right there with us – and who the Son sets free is free indeed. Freedom, beauty, joy, contentment, peace … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

April 25, 2010

Writing What You Know (& family)

“Write what you know” is one of the “classic” bits of writing advice that I feel pretty okay about disregarding. If people only wrote what they literally knew, we wouldn’t have fantasy, sci-fi, or most of the mysteries and thrillers that dominate the market. Hell, we probably wouldn’t have most romances, either, let alone your stand-alone bestsellers like The Lovely Bones (which I still haven’t read and don’t think I could handle). Not to mention one of my favorite genres, the dystopian novel. 1984, Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale – gone.

Emotional honesty, though – now, that’s something else entirely. In On Writing, Steven King tells us, “The heart also knows things, and so does the imagination. Thank God. If not for the heart and imagination, the world of fiction would be a pretty seedy place. It might not even exist at all.”

If we take “write what you know” literally (as too many writing instructors do, especially in those formative years), we cripple ourselves. But if we are to take it as a mandate to write from the heart, to be as emotionally honest as possible, to write with the integrity necessary to telling a truly good story – well then. Write what you know, indeed.

I think there comes a point in time where most writers understand this. We say, yeah! I can write whatever I want! Boo-yah! (or whatever you yell in moments like that)

But then comes the Oh, Shit Moment when you realize that writing from your heart is freaking hard. To write honestly, you have to be honest with yourself, and not only about yourself, but about your relationships and your job or your classes and, most of all, your family.

I’m writing about this because I’m struggling with this. Today, on this grey, wet Sunday morning, I got an idea for a novel. A big novel. It would be big, that is, in size. I’m thinking about the characters, the arcs, the complexity, and – well, it’s inspired in part by my family. Not based on my family, but some of the themes are ones I’m taking from personal experience.

And the struggle is – okay, I can write it. But what if my mom ever finds out? – which she would, if she was alive when it was published (though a heavenly confrontation is not above her, I’m telling you). Not because I based a character on her, because I’m not about to do that – characters should walk and breathe and become and be their own people – but I know that if certain situations or themes or emotions made it into the novel that relate to my family (as they’re bound to at some point in my writing career)… well, of course she’ll recognize it and know where it comes from, even if Jane Smith on the street is reading going, “Oh my gosh, that’s my family!” having absolutely no idea where I got the inspiration.

You see the dilemma? So, on this business of writing what you know. How the hell do you write what you know when you’re afraid of hurting the people you love? I’ve read the writing manuals on disguising characters, making them physically and geographically as separated from the person (people) you’re basing them on as possible. Also, according to Anne Lamott, you’re supposed to make them anti-Semitic and give them a tiny penis so that they will never recognize themselves.

But let’s face it. The people we’re closest to, the people who live with us, the people who raise us – they know where themes come from. Ideas. Certain scenes, and whatever else you decide to plop in there.

Everyone says you have to free yourself from the fear of hurting your loved ones. You can be honest and respectful at the same time. I get that. But in the back of my mind, there’s still this nagging sense of “what if?”

That’s just something I’ll have to work on. And I’ll start writing the story anyway. Because really, if you don’t write the story you want to tell, why are you writing in the first place?

April 21, 2010

Imaginary Talents

You know how when you’re little, you have imaginary friends? Well, I think that the adult version of that is imaginary talents – the talents you wish you had, those figments of your imagination that keep you comfort when what you were given falls through. Or maybe that’s just me.

Myself, I’d be in musical theater. I can act, sort of. Enough to get a small theater scholarship, anyway. But I cannot sing. Imagine a cross between Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding and your run-of-the-mill American Idol reject, and you’ve got me. But in my dreams, I strut into a bar singing some bluesy Janis Joplin that makes everyone sit up a little straighter in their seat. Or I’m Velma Kelly belting “All That Jazz” in the latest Broadway revival of Chicago.

Maybe we all have those “If I was just good at [fill in the blank]” as adults because we are so inundated with warnings of failure. As a kid, the fact that I’d never been to a ballet class didn’t stop me from dreaming that I could be a prima ballerina. And a lack of mathematical aptitude didn’t stop me from dreaming about becoming a molecular geneticist and curing cancer (that was after the ballerina phase). But as an adult, I am so acutely cognizant and self-conscious of my weaknesses. It pushes me to the center of the box rather than to the edges where I can really push.

While I poke fun at my singing voice, I genuinely miss performing onstage. Slam poetry became my performance outlet in college, but I didn’t step on a theatrical stage once. That’s my own fault in that I never auditioned for a show – whether I was too busy or too intimidated, something always got in the way. I got in my own way.

Our “imaginary” longings have some hold in reality. No matter how unrealistic or unlikely our fantasies seem to be, it’s worth getting to the bottom of what that desire means. For me, maybe a desire to perform onstage in a musical means that I want to be seen, appreciated, or uniquely expressive. Our subconscious can powerfully impact our conscious self.

To drive that point home, let’s switch gears to imaginary friends. When I was a little girl, I lived on a gorgeous acreage in the Iowa countryside. It was just outside of your stereotypical, tiny, everybody-knows-your-name Midwestern town. I didn’t get to see my friends outside of school very often, and I had an overactive imagination. Consequently, I had an imaginary pack of tigers that played with after school. I shared this pack of tigers with my imaginary twin brother, Ryan. Ryan was always waiting to play with me when I came home from school. I stopped playing with him around fourth, fifth grade.

Shortly after that, my mom told me that I had been conceived as a twin and that she had lost the other baby. My twin and I were fraternal.

All this to say – it seems like there comes a point in our adult lives where we shut off that intuition, that sixth sense, that knowledge of who we are and what we want.

Our “imaginary talents” or hidden desires can be telling. I don’t know what yours is, but I encourage you to explore what it may mean and – just maybe – to try something new.

April 15, 2010

How To Love My Mom 101

Most people say that their relationships with their parents improve once they become adults. I’m willing to bet that many of those folks have not lived with their parents for a long duration of time since they first moved out of the house.

Living as an adult with your parent for the first time has a whole new set of challenges, especially when you don’t know how long the arrangement is going to last (a.k.a. not a “home during summer” sort of thing). You have to learn how to communicate again – how to break down old patterns and reconstruct new ones. At least, that’s what my mom and I are currently working on.

Three weeks ago, I came home from college, finished with class. I was exhausted but grateful that I had a safe place to rest. There are plenty of people who cannot “go home again”; they may be unwelcome or they may no longer have a home. I am blessed to have two parents, each in their own state, who assured me that I could come back for as long as I needed. I envisioned long, leisurely days job hunting but also reading, writing, catching up with friends…

…You could say that the honeymoon is over. I’ve been realizing that my mom and I had very, very different expectations of what my coming home looked like. There had been hints over these last few weeks, such as her frustration that I’d not yet unpacked my room. But this week, there were several bang-up, freak-out confrontations. This is not typical for us.

Mom and I sat down to have a calm conversation this evening to work things out and, curiously enough, our conversation centered on love languages and definitions of success. Love languages (so labeled by the author Gary Chapman) determine how we give and receive love. The five love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts. I knew that my mom’s main love language was physical touch (so I try to hug her as much as possible), but what I started to realize today was that she is also really big on acts of service. So when I don’t do the dishes, she feels disrespected. When I help her, she feels loved. After a stressful day at work, my mom wants to come home to a clean, peaceful house. When it’s messy, well… there’s a reason she occasionally puts her Wicked Witch of the West magnet on the fridge.

Today’s Realization #1: Doing the dishes is not about pleasing my mom. It’s about loving her.

I do not need to have a clean house in order to feel peaceful or loved. But I do need my mom to watch her words and to communicate love, acceptance, and a nonjudgmental attitude. One of my primary love languages is words of affirmation, which basically means that if someone says “We need to talk” or approaches me in a negative, critical way, I either:

a) go through the roof

or

b) completely check out.

PCP was made for people like me, people for whom, as Pastor Danny Silk says, “The tongue has the power of life and death; they experience words but they more importantly experience [words as] energy.” And lately, my mom’s pointed questions about job hunting, anger at graduate programs for not accepting me, and frustration over the messy house have been sending me through the roof. I need her to communicate something like this:

You are welcome in my house. I love you. Even though finances are difficult, I will work with you on this. I respect your need to seek work as you see fit. I will not ask you about the job hunt. I will not worry. I will trust you. I will trust God.

Today’s Realization #2: Words of affirmation is actually one of my love languages.

(I had not thought this before. Weird.)

Throughout the course of our conversation, we were able to affirm to the other that they were loved. We both had been feeling unloved. My lack of attention to the house and her critical questions about work had been rubbing the recipient entirely the wrong way. It’s like trying to brush a cat and go against the grain of the fur.

I was also able to establish with my mom what I perceive as a successful day. I perceived that she wanted me to be cleaning and job hunting, and that if I didn’t do those things, than I was a lazy bum. (She told me that no, she didn’t define those things as success for The Girl Downstairs.) I shared that my definition of personal success is: have I created something today? Am I spiritually full? Have I communicated with people?

We established that Mom would start making a list of things for me to do around the house. She would like it if I just noticed, but I told her that unless the counter is full of dishes, I’m pretty much fine. As anyone who has ever visited me knows, keeping a clean house (or dorm room) is not my strong suit. I am more than content to let the dishes and dirty clothes pile up for weeks. And then, one day, I will say “I’m going to clean,” and then I will go all out and do all the dishes and clean all the surfaces and vacuum the rug and pick up my dirty clothes and wouldn’t you know, it looks like Glinda the Good Witch has visited. (Glinda or Mr. Clean. It’s a toss up.)

Today’s Realization #3: More like a reminder… that my perceptions are not always right and that respectful communication is absolutely essential to successfully living with someone, no matter the nature of the relationship.

How often do we neglect to communicate love, joy, and peace to our family members? I tell my mom that I want to communicate with my friends daily, only to hear her respond that she feels pretty low on the totem poll. She doesn’t feel that I value communication with her. I tell her she’s a given, but –

Are we excused from demonstrating love to the people who are “givens”? Who love us when we are complete screw ups? Who went through ___ hours of labor to bring us into this world? Who (fill in the blank)?

No, we are not. I know that I take my family members for granted. Hugely for granted. I tell my friends I love them, I ask how they are, I inquire about ongoing issues, but my family? I’m inattentive in comparison. And that’s something that needs to change.

So this is me, recording that I want to change it. I want to show my mom I love her every day. Not because it’s the “Christian” thing to do or the “right” thing to do (even though it is).

Simply, because I love her.

Blog at WordPress.com.