J is for Journaling

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2015-04-12 18.02.14

Our pond & deck.

When I was young, I was a big journaler. From the time I could write, I would record my thoughts. I had diaries. I would write letters to my parents when I was angry (both the type I gave to them and the type I didn’t.) I would write notes, poems, stories, and wishes on scrap pieces of paper. When I was really young, I was especially fond of the adding tape for my grandfather’s calculator. It seemed like it went on and on indefinitely; I could write until my little heart was content. My love of writing what was in my heart continued until my junior year of high school.

When I was a junior, my mom found my journal. This particular journal was a plain ol’ red, 1 inch three-ring-binder. It was so full that it was expanded at least the full one inch. For whatever reason, my mother was in my room one day, saw the gap between my mattress and box spring, and confiscated my journal. She read the entire thing. Perhaps I should have hidden it better. Perhaps she had a right to read what her minor daughter had been writing. Personally, I don’t agree with either one of those statements.

My journal contained an all-too-detailed record of my young life and all of my most intimate thoughts. After reading it all, my mom grounded me for all the horribly sinful things that she discovered. I was literally grounded for 6 months. That wasn’t fun. But what really upset me the most was this intense sense that I had been violated. My inner most being had been unwillingly exposed to her, to the last person in the world that I would ever share those thoughts with.

After that time, I quit writing. No more poems. No more silly thoughts. No more records of my sinful behavior. And, most especially, no record of my feelings and innermost thoughts.

I tried a few times in college to start journaling again, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just had this feeling like I was no longer writing to express myself. It felt like whatever I was writing could be discovered, so I couldn’t write freely. Writing had lost the sense of freedom – the sense of escape and expression that it had once provided me.

Back when I did journal, it was a great way for me to process my thoughts. It was a great way for me to express my emotions, but it was more than just expression. Being able to see my emotions in writing somehow allowed me to see them in a different light. It gave me the ability to step back and process them and use reason to decipher those emotions. When I process situations in my head, I tend to stay stuck in my emotions, but when I process on paper, I can let my emotions out, and then begin to move past them or work with them to make some kind of positive progress. It was a great outlet for me. I know that it still would be.

Sometimes, this blog plays the role that my journal used to play. I think that’s why I’ve had such success in dealing with my stress in these last couple of weeks. I do really well when I have to put my thoughts on paper. Reflection alone isn’t enough for me; I really benefit from writing out what I’m thinking or feeling or struggling with. I need to find a way to reincorporate journaling into my life. I don’t know if that means pen and paper or if it’s something I might do on the computer. Regardless, it’s something I think I could benefit from.

We have a great pond in my backyard with a deck over it. I can see myself sitting out on the deck and journaling my worries away. It feel a little more relaxed just thinking about it. It’s something I definitely need to make room for in my life.

G is for Get Up Earlier

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

wake up happyI almost feel a little guilty writing that I should get up earlier, especially after my last post. It seems that as I write these posts, I’m discovering that I need to cut out the things in my life that don’t matter, and make time for the things that do matter. I’m also discovering that I have somehow completely reversed the meaning of these two things.

The truth is, I do better when I get up earlier. I am not a morning person, so I like to keep my eyes shut for absolutely as long as I can. Sometimes this means there are already several children in bed with me begging me to get up before I crack an eyelid. The days that happens are usually much more hectic than the days when I get up before my children.

When I initially planned my A to Z topics, I figured I’d talk about how many more things I could accomplish if I would make a habit of getting up earlier. I could have my coffee, pray, exercise, start the kids’ breakfast, etc. I had all kinds of ideas about things I could do with those extra minutes before the children come thundering out of bed. I figured having all those things accomplished would make me more productive, and, somehow make me feel less stressed.

For some reason, I have come to assume that productivity was the cure for stress. Boy was I wrong. Trying to combat stress with more and more productivity is just fueling the fire. I’ve been like a rat on a wheel powering my own destructive cycle. But, despite that, I still think there is something to be gained from getting up earlier. The gain is just different from what I expected it to be. What I gain isn’t productivity, it’s peace.

When I get up earlier, I have precious quiet moments to myself. I can think my own thoughts and sip coffee while I watch the sky slowly illuminate with morning light. I can take a shower so I start the day feeling refreshed. If I chose to pray or exercise, that’s great, but not because it’s productive, because both things make me happy and bring me peace. Getting up earlier isn’t to make extra time for things on my to-do list, it’s to make extra time for me.

F is for Fun

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

pack muleI almost didn’t want to write about this topic. It seems so “master of the obvious” to suggest one should have fun to combat or prevent stress. But then I realized I need to write this post for myself because, obvious or not, I missed the memo.

A few days ago I mentioned that I tend to cut out eating and sleeping to keep myself on schedule. That’s true. I eat standing up while teaching or in the car driving or in any other way that prevents me from “wasting” time on something so trivial as food consumption. If I can’t multitask my breakfast or lunch, I probably just cut it out all together. As far as sleep goes – I simply don’t allow myself the opportunity to rest or nap, no matter how exhausted I am, because I simply can’t afford to be so unproductive.

But you know what got thrown out the window long before eating and sleeping? Fun. I rarely give myself the privilege to just let go and have fun. But that’s absurd! Fun is not a privilege. Fun is a part of life. We are supposed to have fun and enjoy life. Responsibility is well and good, but it is not all there is. Responsibility should be tempered by privilege. Work should be tempered by leisure. They are two sides of the same scale. Life is made of both. Sadly, my scale is freakishly unbalanced, and it has been for a long time. It’s no wonder I’m so stressed out.

Fun is not optional, and I’m going to stop treating in as such. As I work to create better boundaries in my life, I’m going to ensure that fun is always on the agenda. I’m not saying I’m going to throw all productivity out the window, but I am definitely going to be reevaluating just how much “productivity” is actually required to have a productive day. In fact, having fun is productive in it’s own way because it keeps me emotionally and physically balanced.

I firmly believe that kids deserve to have fun every day. That’s one of the reasons we homeschool. I want my kids to have a childhood and to enjoy it to the fullest. I don’t know how I missed the obvious correlation that adults need fun too. I haven’t grown out of my need to have fun – that’s not part of human development. So I’m going to start having more of it.

Honestly, choosing to not have fun is an affront against my human dignity. If I just stay busy, busy, busy, and never stop to enjoy, have fun, and see beauty, I’ve reduced myself to some kind of labor animal. I’ve made myself a pack mule. I am not a mule, and I’m going to stop treating myself like one.

Shake Them Haters Off

keep-calm-and-shake-the-haters-offI was just reading Simcha Fisher’s newest post at the Register. She was talking about the Royal Baby, a topic I care nothing about, so I’m slightly surprised I was even reading. I’m so grateful I was reading because in the middle of a bunch of nothing I stumbled upon something I desperately needed to hear.

“When I trundled up with a giant belly and someone asked if it was my first, and I said, ‘No, it’s actually my ninth’ — they assumed I was having a baby at them.  They assumed that I was trying to make a statement, or start a movement, or drive home a point, or turn the tide, or cause a ruckus, or reform the culture, or put them to shame, or something. When in fact, all I was trying to do is have a baby.  Because I like babies, and they like me.”

This statement was not her intended highlight, but it definitely was for me. The reason people attack me in public is because they have already assumed I’m attacking them.

For whatever reason, I take the nasty things they say so personally. I’m so relieved to realize it’s really not about me at all. It’s about them and their own faulty assumptions. Maybe even their own guilty consciences. Whatever it’s about, it’s not about me or my sweet children.

I’m not sure that this knowledge will make it any easier to bear their insulting remarks, especially the ones that hurt my children, but I think it will make it easier for me to respond with charity. It will make it easier for me to pray for them when I walk away. And it will certainly make it easier for me to let go of their nasty remarks. I won’t have to wrestle with their words, because their words were never really about me in the first place.

Thank you, Simcha Fisher, for that brief statement about your life and your understanding of those run-ins with the bagger at the grocery store. Your words have provided me with a liberation I desperately needed! Thank you!

 

My Hair, My Glory?

bad hair dayAny woman who is familiar with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has probably contemplated his words about a woman’s hair being her glory. (cf. 1 Cor 11:15) At times I’ve attempted to wrestle with his words, but, usually, when I get the that part, I simply dismiss it as antiquated or culturally irrelevant and read on. The fact is, it just didn’t feel relevant to me. But, as we all know, what feels right to us at any given time may not be the best indicator of what actually is right or true. Granted, this is a very small topic. Certainly, no one’s faith hinges on Paul’s comments about hair. Nonetheless, I wanted to share what I recently realized.

I never felt as if my hair was my glory because I hate my hair. I’ve always hated my hair. It’s flat. It’s dull. It’s fine. And, worst of all, it isn’t even a color. It’s not brown. It’s not blonde. It’s just…blah. I have the most boring, lifeless hair on the planet. At least that’s my perception. With that being the case, I think its easy to see why I never equated my hair with glory.

Last week, I stumbled across a post by Jennifer Fulwiler (whom I don’t know, but love) and finally discovered the truth in Paul’s words. She wrote,

“Our hair is one of the main ways we express our individuality. Even for those of us who have no skill at hairdressing, the cut and style of our locks speaks volumes about how we want people to perceive us. It’s also one of the primary ways we make ourselves beautiful. Imagine a girl standing in front of a mirror, heading out to a party, determined to look as gorgeous as possible…but totally neglecting her hair. It wouldn’t happen.”

How right she is! I would never make the effort to put on makeup and get dressed up, but fail to fix my hair. In fact, if I’m really trying to look special, I spend more time working on my hair then everything else combined. Well…unless I change clothes 80 times. Which has been known to happen on occasion.

Even on the days I don’t wear any makeup and run errands in workout clothes, I still fix my hair. It may not be glamorous, but I do something with it.

The vast array of hair care products available at any store is enough to confirm the value that women and modern society place on a woman’s hair. There are at least three whole aisles dedicated to nothing but women’s hair care products at the Walmart closest to my house. The men’s hair products? They take up about 3 feet of shelf space on the deodorant aisle. And even that is a recent expansion. It wasn’t too long ago that those products didn’t exist.

My point is simply that Paul was right and I was wrong. It may not be a theologically significant point, but I take great comfort in the hidden truths I find in Scripture, even if they’re very small and seemingly meaningless. Truly though, I’m not sure that truth can ever be meaningless. Perhaps that’s why I find it so comforting and exciting when I recognize even such a little piece of it?

Love is a Battlefield

boundariesFor whatever reason, one of the most viewed posts on my blog this week has been a “breakup letter” of sorts. I wrote it many years ago…2008 to be exact. And if that doesn’t date the letter enough, it was originally published on my MySpace page! Just for giggles I tried to log in to my MySpace page, but I couldn’t. Guess my poor page was canceled due to inactivity or something. I’m pretty sure I’ve admitted once before that I was truly sad to see MySpace fall by the wayside. My page was absolutely adorable. Being the perfectionist that  I am, I worked on it regularly, ensuring it looked just right and portrayed me just the way I wanted to be seen. No such luck with Facebook. Same boring blue for everyone.

Truly though, this isn’t a post about Myspace. Or Facebook. It’s about the blog entry that has been so popular this week. More than that, it’s about me.

Believe it or not, I don’t talk about me very well. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite topics. My discomfort with the topic of me was the root of the difficulty I was experiencing when I referred to blogging as virtual exhibitionism many moons ago. It was also what made me cringe and…let’s be real…come close to having a panic attack…when I saw what had been drudged up from my past.

But then something happened. In the midst of the sheer terror involved with thinking someone may have caught a glimpse of the real me, the interior me, the me I work so hard to keep inside, I realized something even more upsetting.

I could have written that entry recently.

I could have written it this morning, even.

I’m fighting the same battle today that I was 5 years ago.

The same, infuriating battle that has no hope for resolution.

The same battle that drains so much of my energy can often (albeit, less often than in the past) consume me, and always leaves me drowning in a pool of my own rage and unmet needs.

Intellectually, I know many of the right answers. If I were my own friend, I know how I would coach myself to develop and demand healthy boundaries. I know what I would say to help validate the feelings I’m experiencing, but then start working to release the emotional hold those feeling maintain. I know exercises to identify cognitive distortions and retrain automatic thoughts…

But none of that matters.

I’m trapped in the same place I was five years ago with very little improvement.

And it’s infuriating.

The truth is, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to move past this without professional counseling. But I’m just not willing to let her spend my money on top of all that she’s cost me emotionally. I know, I know…that’s very mature, right?

I wish I had a happy conclusion for this post. A light-hearted look at what I’ve gained from this experience and how I’m attempting to grow. But it just doesn’t exist. At least not right now. Right now it just hurts. And I just feel trapped. Right now, I guess both she and I just need your prayers. Thanks.

Moving at His Own Pace

One of the many things that appealed to me about homeschooling was the ability to progress at my kids’ own pace. Their studies will never have to move so quickly that they are left behind, and they won’t be forced to do busy work despite having already mastered a concept. I spent most of my academic career on either side of that fence. Mostly, I was bored to tears because we spent way to much time on concepts that I grasped quickly. This lead to complete apathy on my part. I never did any homework, always planning to complete it the class period prior to it being due, since I viewed my being in class a complete waste of my time. However, when I was younger, from about 5th – 7th grades, I was beyond lost in math. Ironically, this also lead to apathy, as it appeared, regardless of the effort I put in, I would never grasp those concepts. Thankfully, my mother got an incredible math tutor for me and she turned my math woes around. Knowing that neither position is one that ignites a love of learning, I am more than pleased to never have to put my children in either situation.

But there’s one little problem…

In our recent phonics studies, I’ve found that the pace at which I would like to move is much different from the pace at which Andy is prepared to move. This has led to more than a few tense moments of me pleading “sound it out” as he guesses through a string of words that we covered that day. It makes me crazy. But I just keep pushing. And then he gets frustrated. And wants to quit. Which also makes me crazy. I quickly developed a hatred for phonics, very seriously considered switching phonics programs, and then had the epiphany that neither phonics nor our curriculum was the problem. It’s me.

I have an agenda. I want to move through this a quickly as possible. I want him to be ahead of the pack. I want all our family and friends who are critical of our decision to homeschool to have to eat crow when they see him reading at a 6th grade reading level in 1st grade. (Ok…I’m not quite that crazy…but I’m not far off either.) I’m pushing him into one of the situations I hate most about a traditional classroom. But I’m even worse. I’m not pushing him forward or holding him back for the good of 20 other students, I’m doing for my own pride. My own sinful, selfish pride.

I wholeheartedly believe that we made the right decision when we chose to homeschool this year. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. But if I keep up like this I’m essentially self-sabotaging: He’s going to hate learning and I’m going to hate teaching. I’m just grateful I came to this realization early on. Now, knowing the issues I have with my pride, we’ll just have to see how many times I have to fight this battle with myself over the next 17+ years.

Say it with me: I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace…

I mean so what if he’s in 4th grade and is just finally learning to write his own name? This is about them, not me, right? (And for all my critics reading this: don’t worry, he already knows how to write his name. I’m just making a point.)