Today I started with good intentions. I got up when my alarm went off. I decided to hit the streets before writing, loaded up my podcasts and off I went. While I walked, I considered what to write about when I got home. In fact, I planned my morning perfectly to ensure maximum productivity.
I walked in the door and BLAM! There she sat, waiting for me. She leaped on to my chest, wrapped her grimy little fingers around both my lungs and squeezed. As her weight slowly settled, my mind began to whirl with all kinds of ridiculous and terrible scenarios.
Hello, anxiety. It’s been awhile, I said.
My adventure with anxiety began around the same time I started therapy. She’s one of the reasons I went to therapy actually. Learned helplessness taught me I’ll never do anything right, but anxiety likes to remind me of all the things which haven’t gone wrong yet, but will go wrong eventually. She’s considerate like that.
A year of therapy provided me with many tools to combat anxiety. I use them all: reframing, meditation, physical evidence (sorry about all those texts this morning, honey. I needed to know you are still breathing; the building hadn’t collapsed; you still love me; you will always love me; yes, even though I am completely insane.), exercising, journaling. If it’s a holistic treatment, you name it, I’ve done it. Usually, when mixed with time, they work.
Today’s joy ride with anxiety is sponsored by trauma. See, I don’t always get in trouble when I share my thoughts or feelings or theology publicly, but it happens often enough, and occasionally painfully enough, that a weekend of vulnerable posts has left me with an anxiety hangover.
The obvious answer is just to take the day off, right? Ah but see, those are my old patterns. When life gets scary, hide. Go dark. Disappear. If no one notices, then you won’t get hurt.
If avoiding attention were a professional sport, I’d be independently wealthy by now.
But I don’t want to be this way anymore. Plus, there’s the whole 100-day project to consider. Basically, taking a day off isn’t an option. So I ran through my bag of anxiety tricks. I looked anxiety in the eye and said, I can’t make you leave, but I won’t let you stop me either.
Then I said it again.
Then I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.
But finally, I looked anxiety dead in the eye and I SHOWED UP ANYWAY. (Incidentally, if you were wondering, anxiety looks what would happen if a sloth mated with a dragon, at least, that’s what mine looks like, all claws and scales, and sinewy arm strength…but with speed and agility).
I don’t hold on to any illusion that my life will be magically different at the end of these one hundred days. After all, it’s been two years since I stopped hiding and started working on recovery instead, and today I was nearly waylaid by an imaginary slagon (droth?) with long hairy arms and a desire to crush my lungs.
But I know some days, you worry less about a polished product and more about simply showing up. You may arrive with disheveled hair and mismatched shoes, but by golly, YOU ARRIVE!
Here’s to good intentions and excellent tools, to Gilmore Girls and afternoon coffee. Here’s to fear and faith and showing up anyway.
This is recovery. Some days, all you can do is show up and cheer. Might as well invite you to cheer along with me.
I think that success is having fun. – Bruno mars
Last week, I shared about my Sunday struggles, and my plan to reframe how I feel by adding something fun each week. I dubbed it “Something Fun Sunday.” This week, I made sure to take notice of books, events, songs, and moments so I could share them today. I’m pleased to say, it worked! I was definitely more mindful of enjoyable moments. I anticipated their arrival and savored them longer, and then reflected on them more often in further anticipation of writing about it. These are all keys to happiness. Without further ado, here’s Some fun things for Sunday
I’m an unashamed Marvel movies fan. No, I didn’t grow up reading the comic books, and I don’t know all the lore and back stories. I just know I enjoy a good completely imaginary action flick. So when Craig showed me the new Thor: Ragarok trailer, I was thrilled! It’s not many movie trailers which make me laugh aloud, but this one does. “I know him! We’re friends from work!” I crack up every time. Watch it here.
Two books added to my enjoyment this week. While I tend more towards literary fiction and non-fiction, some weeks I want cozy chic-lit filled with tears and laughter and a guaranteed happy ending. I want a great story about relationships and life and the crazy way its beautiful and terrible all at the same time. This week, I found it in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves. I don’t want to give anything away, but, friends, if you need a cozy good book this week, this is it.
On Thursday night, my book group gathered (more fun things!), and we ended up talking about an entirely different book. The Happiness Project is a long-time favorite. In fact, I’m undertaking a happiness project of my own this year. I reread this book almost annually and was so excited it came up because it’s currently $1.99 on Kindle. I don’t know how much longer this deal will last, so if you decide to read it too, I wouldn’t wait too long to buy it. Incidentally, when I talk about how anticipating, experiencing and remembering an event increases happiness, that’s a concept I learned from Gretchen Rubin.
I’m a bit late to the bandwagon (aren’t I always?) We’ve had family premium on Spotify for about six months now, and the whole experience is wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I like music, and how entwined my mood and music can be. New music at my finger tips and the ability to make playlists for every mood? YES, PLEASE!! EVERY DAY ALL DAY LONG! A couple weeks ago I ran across this little gem, and I’ve probably listened to it sixty-eight times since then. So now I share it with you, enjoy!
I sat down at my keyboard today and wondered, Is it ok to write about writing? Do people want to read that? Which is a silly question because I have five readers, and obviously you are the five I can’t chase away no matter what I write about. We’re stuck together for life, and I’m very ok with it. But then I considered the layers beneath that seemingly innocent duo of questions and peeked at a familiar theme. What is expected of me? Am I upholding those expectations? That’s the voice of codependency and trauma. What are the rules and how do I follow them perfectly? Those questions tell me instead of writing about writing, it’s time to break down some boxes, starting with order.
I learned about the concept of three boxes from Richard Rohr, a formative voice for me over the last several years. He breaks the universal faith journey into three boxes: order > disorder > reorder.
In the interest of brevity–and because you can read more at the linked article–let’s call the first box the box of immaturity. It holds the foundational tenets which we are taught from the moment we draw breath. Whether or not we are talking about church or religion, we begin with certain rules, ways of explaining how the world works. This is a good thing. In fact, it’s a necessary process enabling us to grow in an emotionally stable environment. One of our most basic needs is security. Foundational rules keep us safe and provide order: the stove is hot; the street is not safe; God loves us; the sun will rise every morning.
These rules create order and provide the framework for reality. Without them, the world is a Salvadore Dali painting, skewed, unstable and unpredictable.
All of us rely on rules daily. But most of us don’t follow them blindly once we gain maturity. For instance, the rule we used to follow about going into the street. It is true streets can be dangerous. But when I take my morning run, I frequently run in the street if the sidewalk is bad because all streets are not dangerous all the time for all people. The principle is true even if the practice isn’t always true.
When I run in the street, I leave the box of order and venture into disorder (the time I went in the street and was nearly wiped out) and eventually reorder (carefully assessing traffic patterns before assuming street safety).
Religion can be a very first box oriented endeavor. We make rules because we want to know and understand God, which is good. A god who is too big or too mysterious to understand is a force of power with which we can never connect. Knowing and understanding are key to a relationship, therefore God makes Himself knowable and comprehensible because He desires relationship. However, there are parts of His being which are not immediately knowable and even those which are essentially unknowable due to the limits of human understanding.
We use these revealed truths as cornerstones on which we build our theology. God is good. God created the universe. Jesus is real. Jesus died to restore humanity. We can be like God, and He desires this for us. He helps form us in His image. These beliefs matter. They create order in our chaotic reality.
The problem is sometimes we see the rules as immovable constructs for all time rather than starting point for a long conversation. Yes, the stove is hot and may burn us. However, the stove also allows us to create an endless variety of food, which may lead to conversation, laughter, togetherness and community. What is true about the stove is not ALL that is true about the stove. It’s a starting point, but there is more to the conversation.
The same is true of our religious beliefs:
God created the universe, but the is more to the conversation.
Jesus died to restore us, but there is more to the conversation.
We can be like God, but there so much more to the conversation.
And honestly, sometimes the more to the conversation is scary. Sometimes, the stove burns your house down; the street proves deadly. Sometimes theology goes horribly, maniacally wrong.
At this point we face a sort of crisis, is it easier to continue the conversation, or do we revert to the basic tenets and never deviate? Do we conform to the rules and reject anyone who does not or cannot conform to them, calling them a heretic and casting them away from us for our own safety? Do we even dare question if the original rule might not be a true rule to begin with?
Now we’re in uncharted territory. It’s not safe, not secure, not popular, and definitely not easy. Which is why so many of us never leave the safety of the rules. If a thing is always true, we always know what to expect. We always know the outcome. We never have to worry about consequences. So we live this way for years. Some of us live this way forever. It isn’t inherently wrong to live our entire lives in the box of order, but it’s an extremely exclusive way to live. If a set of rules is true, then every other set of rules must be wrong. There can be only one set of true rules.
The box of order is safe, but it breeds superiority, contempt and disassociation. At its extreme it is completely anti-community. There can only be us and them, and we are always completely right.
Order is necessary, but there is more to the conversation.
**I didn’t start this as a series, but it has rapidly become one. Stay tuned for further installments.
Each week when we meet together for Celebrate Recovery, we have snacks. It’s a well-known law in the south that wherever two or more are gathered in His name there will be a covered dish. Now, I’m not opposed to snacks in the least, but I gave myself permission to defy cultural norms and not take food every place I go. Therefore, I don’t snack socially anymore (the basic, don’t eat if you didn’t contribute principle – my own rule, not anything imposed upon me). It reduces my stress level and my waistline. Win-win. But Monday evening, my friend was concerned about the quality of her cookie contribution. I sacrificed my principles and taste tested a cookie, strictly for quality control.
It was delicious. Amazing. Soft, crumbly, buttery shortbread cookie topped with melted caramel and chocolate, which then cooled into a sort of shell. If someone made a homemade twix bar, it would taste like this cookie, only this cookie makes twix blush with shame. I know this because after the first cookie I ate two more. I am the sort of friend who will sacrifice deeply in this way.
There was, however, one slight drawback to the cookies. The caramel, as it hardened, became very, very chewy. And as my friend does not stint on ooey-gooey toppings, it wasn’t a thin layer. The result was an amazingly, delicious cookie which rendered the eater entirely unable to communicate during the consumption process, or for a few minutes afterwards. Worth it.
While most CR guests are in small group, two or three of us set out the snacks in a separate room. This is where the quality control occurs, and it is where two of us succumbed to shortbread cookie ecstasy and silence for several minutes. What’s funny about this is both of us handling the set up are highly introverted. Together, we share our introvert struggles, anxieties, and what we like about our personalities, even when they make it difficult to fit in. We are also quite comfortable to be together quietly for large chunks of time, as introverts do. On Monday nights, these quiet setting up moments are sandwiched between two periods of high social interaction for us, This little bit of quiet space is always welcome.
So here we are, alone in a big room, chewing cookies. And chewing cookies. More chewing. And still more chewing, delicious buttery, caramel-y cookies.
It went on for a bit.
And then, we got the giggles. We attempted conversation, but we just couldn’t do it. We could not talk and consume this cookie at the same time. Instead we immersed ourselves in cookie-chewing until the experience ended. After we laughed and giggled…and ate another cookie…we decided to call them Introvert Cookies. If handed out to a room full of people, these cookies would halt conversation for a very long time. Which of course got us giggling even more. We had to eat another cookie to prove our hypothesis.
Sure enough, delicious silence. Just like I like it.
It’s interesting to me, as I look back, not just on this silly moment, but over the last year, how much more at ease I am with myself. My decision to eat before leaving home so I don’t have to take a covered dish somewhere, or my contentment with sitting quietly in a room even with other people around, or a hundred other quirks and oddities which make up the essence of me have long been a point of internal contention. One day I finally realized I don’t have to conform to popular culture. I don’t have to buy certain things, or eat certain ways, or be on certain bandwagons just to fit in.
I can do these things, and sometimes I do. But when I do, it is without pressure or resentment. Giving myself permission to be who I am has freed me to do everything more wholeheartedly.
It helps when we realize, we all exist in imaginary cultural boxes. Christians think this. Teen-agers do that. Poor people are this way. The world works that way.
Except it isn’t true, not all the time, or for every person. Boxes are neater, sure. And whole lot easier. We all experience tremendous pressure to conform to box where we mostly identify. But what would it look like if we didn’t? I don’t have the answer, but exploring the possibility has led me on a very healing and exciting journey.
If you like, we can share an introvert cookie and think about it.
I’m mentally composing a blog about how liturgy has been an anchor for my faith. But today I am emotional soup for a thousand different reasons. My heart is anxious, and I’m emotionally dry. So instead of writing about liturgy, I’m writing actual prayers instead. So, I give you, liturgy for an anxious heart.
Lord of peace and mercy,
We ask for peace which passes understanding,
For paths beside still waters,
For the restoration of the soul which only you provide.
We ask for eyes to see your goodness and mercy following us
All the days of our lives.
Abba, give us peace to be still,
Wisdom to disregard the propaganda and the rumors of war,
Grace and joy overflowing to share
Through the halls of our workplaces and the rooms of our homes.
Sustainer of creation, you are the one who brings hope
Who turns our stony heart to living flesh.
May we not turn from the refugee, the suffering, the poor, the undesirable.
Replace our eyes with your vision for justice
that we may see in your beloved children
The image of the divine
In the unlovely,
The discarded and unwanted
In the enemy who threatens us with harm.
If we walk the valley of the shadow of death
in the name of your love
Help us not be afraid
But walk gently onward ever closer to your heart.
Lord may we not look to a future in your heavenly kingdom,
But live in it, today, where we are.
Let us bring heaven to earth.
May we be conduits of heavenly justice and restoration,
Giving birth to divine love every place our feet fall,
May hope spring up from the ground beneath us, the rocks cry out,
The trees clap their hands in recognition of the Living God within us.
May our focus on the eternal not be for our reward after death,
But in our present circumstances.
As kingdom breathers and kingdom bringers
Let goodness and mercy dwell with us and in us
May they pour from our wounds as your blood poured out also.
Let justice roll like a river over every person we encounter.
May we be called ridiculous, scandalous, rebellious
As we seek to open the kingdom to all who those who have lost sight of mercy.
May we tear the curtains of this world, opening wide the most holy spaces.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever,
On earth as it is in heaven.
More and more over the last five years, I’ve stayed aware of the church calendar. As much as I have shared about change recently, I also deeply love rhythms and patterns. I’m drawn to them even more when everything around me feels so unsettled. They remind me of mindfulness. In the church calendar Easter will always follow Lent, which follows Epiphany, which follows Advent, which follows…year after year, an unchanging journey with the life of Jesus. For all of the struggle I have with church, I am enamored of Jesus. Following the church calendar keeps my eyes on Him and following Him keeps me grounded in loving God and neighbor.
This year for Lent, I gave up mindlessness. Yes, it is a broad category. In February, I felt overwhelmed and purposeless. I was drifting without much direction and avoiding any self-searching with news, social media and “advice from experts.” I relied on others to tell me what was critical and important, how I should feel about every single situation. Since everyone has an agenda with their own crtically urgent items, I was drowning in a sea of voices.
Whenever this happens, it’s time to reign in the information flow and create space for my self. Mindfulness never happens unintentionally. To become more self aware, I must clear the stage for my soul’s more mundane voice. Generally this means turning off screens, or going outside, or occasionally staring out the window at nothing for chunks of time. When it looks like I am doing the least, my soul is probably doing its deep work. But like everyone else, at the first sign of boredom, I tend to grab a screen and find some information to take in rather let my soul surface.
I drift towards scattered and unfocused behavior when I am in the grip of mindless living, starting too many books which I never finish. I grab this shiny idea and that shiny concept, but can’t decide what to do once I snag them. When everything is marked as urgent, I am paralyzed by choices. Busyness is my god, and it requires incessant feeding with frivolous and unimportant matter. I seem very productive during these times, but I’m merely spinning my wheels, going nowhere. Remember when I said I was the queen of the grand gesture? That tendency goes hand in hand with worshiping the productivity gods. “Look at this great, big change I made in just a few hours! I clearly have it all together! See me work so hard!!”
Mindfulness is slower with infinitely less braggadocio. On mindful days, the most grand gesture I make is to show up, no fanfare or flourish, just a gentle immersion as entering a pool of deep water. Being mindful requires focus and reflection. For me, it also requires frequent use of timers. I settle to a task for a certain period of time, and once the time is set, I can focus solely on the task at hand. I have permission to immerse without the monkey brain constantly asking, but what about this issue? But what about that problem? What if we forget to do this very important thing? The timer takes care of it all until I finish the task at hand. My notebook makes a handy companion, as well. Once words are on paper, they can stop twirling incessantly through my head.
Mindfulness forces me to stop engaging escapism, my biggest battle with online time. The internet is here to stay, and in many ways, it’s highly beneficial. It also creates a doorway for me to check out. I scroll away the hours waiting for someone to entertain me rather than dealing with the things my soul keeps bringing to my attention. I repress and distract. And oh, I love the gold stars when someone compliments my wit, my intelligence, my insight. A good ego stroke is only as far away as my next witty tweet.
These are the things my soul shares with me when I finally let her take the stage. They are neither pretty nor flattering, but they are true. They are true and conquerable, but only when I’m paying attention.
As Easter, the official close of Lent draws near, I’m even more reflective. Have I succeeded in my lenten fast? What are the results of my journey? How has it affected me? These are complex questions with layers and layers of response. I am succeeding, though perhaps not in a measurable way. I’m more self-aware and less anxious. I am also more open-minded and less embittered, and most importantly, less likely to avoid dealing with bitterness when it arises. It’s too early to talk about results, and perhaps results aren’t even the point. The process is well begun with a lifetime of improvement ahead. We’ll let the results wait for the judgement; they aren’t mine to judge anyway.
I will continue to unpack how this affects me in the weeks to come. I am changed and aware of the process. For today, this is enough.
I’m currently at odds with Sunday. Yes, I experience conflicting emotions about days of the week. Welcome to my world. On Sundays, if I have experiences I find difficult, I try to regain balance by also doing something fun which restores rather than depletes me. Over the last year, I’ve begun to embrace the narrative that self-care is not selfishness.
As a church go-er, I find myself faced with two conflicting messages. The first says, die to self. We do this by giving up our needs, desires, wants, personality traits, and ideas and conforming to cultural norm of Christianity. Individuality and self-care are ranked beneath meeting others’ needs and a long list of behavioral expectations. The second says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It challenges us to fully embrace our quirks and personalities as evidence of the Divine Creator. Yes, we all have rough edges to smooth, and issues to redirect, but we were designed to be who we uniquely are.
The first message has always been the loudest in my life. The second is newer and scarier. It leaves room for growth and error, and is definitely not one-size-fits-all. By granting love and acceptance, it shifts responsibility for my life from a religious institution to my own imperfect shoulders. While I do not disagree with the concept of dying to self, I’m so tired of only believing there is nothing good in me.
Ironically, the more self-aware I become, the more balanced my view of self is. Yes, there’s dross worthy of the trash heap, but there’s some amazing material, as well. My personality and desires, the things I love, the ways I relate and relax, these divinely inspired pieces aren’t inherent flaws. I am, all at once, random splices of DNA, a construct of my environment, and an unquenchable, creative being, utterly unique in the entire universe. I exist as I am for a purpose.
Embracing this narrative hasn’t been an easy journey. I lose sight of the revelation often, caught up in the cycle of perfection and approval again. It’s true that old habits die hard, but they do die.
Which brings me back to being at odds with Sundays. When life presents us with difficult circumstances, sometimes we can just pack up and walk on. If we can’t escape, we turn to coping mechanisms to diffuse emotionally charged experiences. Whether these coping skills are healthy or unhealthy depends on tools and self-awareness. Personally, I have my share of unhealthy habits which have done me no favors.
Instead, as part of my 100-day writing project, I’m starting a new thing: Something fun Sundays. I don’t know about you, but left on its own, my mind tends to spiral downward. But if I retrain it to watch for something fun, and share these things with you, I get quadruple the enjoyment. I get to anticipate, experience, remember and share. I can’t escape an emotionally entangled situation, but I can, perhaps, reframe it by surrounding with things I enjoy. If Sunday can’t be my favorite day of the week, it can at least be one I look forward to and savor.
What strategies do you use to cope with emotionally charged situations?