Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It Goes On

"Most of the craziness in the world--violence, addictions, and frenetic activity--comes from running from pain. Many of the world's biggest bullies and worst mass murderers have acted to avoid confronting their own painful feelings. The only thing worse than feeling pain is not feeling pain. Healthy people face their pain. When they are sad, they cry. When they are angry, they acknowledge they are angry. They don't pretend to have only PG-rated feelings. They don't judge their feelings. Rather, they simply observe and describe them...

"...My definition of a healthy person is one who can grow and learn from all experiences. As an old man who had lost his wife, a son, and a daughter, poet Robert Frost said that he could sum up everything he knew about life in three words, 'It goes on.' "

-Mary Pipher
from Letters to a Young Therapist

Today, I was running. From the same pain. Same frustrations. Same thoughts. Same shame.

So I literally had to grab myself, put on my robe, get under the covers, and just sit. Long enough to breathe. Long enough to acknowledge. Long enough to feel.

And as I sat, I remembered how many other times I've walked this exact same road, followed the exact same path, berated myself with the exact same attacks, and moved on solemnly broken and fragile.

So, I chose another path.

Instead, I took one that meant drinking water.
Turning on the space heater.
Writing in my journal.
And moving on.

I didn't feel remarkably better.
I didn't bounce with lightness or confidence or joy.
But I stopped the attack before it started.
I re-wrote some old self-hating tapes.

And that doesn't count for something.
That counts for everything. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Choosing Better Tapes

The tapes playing in my head this week:

"Why am I so unloveable?"

"Who do I think I am?"

"I am taking up too much space."

On some level, these tapes have been playing on repeat my entire life. And we've all got 'em. Messages we've heard so long that we hardly doubt their truth, but only begin to doubt their untruth. After all, how could this not be true? How could 25 years of data lie? "There was that thing that he said and that situation that happened...and that proves my point"...(and so on and so forth).

I remember as a kid being told to "hush." A lot. Regularly getting in trouble for saying too much or speaking too loudly. For talking about the wrong things. For asking too many questions. For vying for too much attention. For being too much.

And I still feel much that way today. Fear that I am physically taking up too much space. Fear that I am emotionally asking too much. Fear that I am being too honest. Being too much to handle, which makes me come up short. Needing to be better.

Being too much and not enough all in the same sentence.

At my worst, I'm hiding in my clothes. Concerning myself with being smaller. Feeling the need to trim down my opinions, my honesty and appetite for life because it's just too much.

At my best, I'm taking pride in my physical body. Investing in learning and growth. Feeling the desire to build up my knowledge, my vulnerability, and my appetite for life because it just feels right.

I had a friend during eating disorder recovery. One of us would call the other post-binge, post-purge, or post-both and say: "This is what I'm feeling. I hate it. I want to self-harm. But I am promised that if I felt this way, I would call you first." It wasn't the receiver's job to talk the other person out of it. It wasn't the receiver's responsibility to rush over and stop them from proceeding. But the deal was, I'll at least call you first.

And when I called, she would often say, "Do the next right thing."

Yes, what has happened hurts.
And I'm sorry for that.
Yes, we can't go back and change the past.
But what can you do now?
What's the next right thing?

For me today--with these tapes playing in my head--the next right thing would be to eat a salad. Not because I have to. But because I'm hungry and fiber is good for me and having four more servings of buttery biscuits isn't exactly balance.

The next right thing is to stop walking in circles. Sit down. Cease your anxious knee-bouncing. Read that book.

The next right thing is to surround myself with good friends.

The next right thing is to drink more water.

This won't solve the problem. It won't make everything go away. It won't undo the past week of self-hatred, but it's the next right thing and that counts for something. If not everything.

Life happens not only in grand climaxes and inciting incidents, but also in day-to-day choices to do the next right thing.

To choose better tapes, like:

"I am loveable."

"I am worthy."

"I can take up all the space I need."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What it Means to be from Nebraska

Often, when I tell people I live in Nebraska they say:
"Oh. I'm sorry." (or something of the like).
"Why did you go to Nebraska when you're from Colorado?"
"Oh, the Huskers, huh?"
And my personal favorite: "You must eat a lot of corn."

These comments made sense to me when I first came to college here at eighteen. I felt separated from the Rocky Mountains, from a place I'd spent most of my life. A place that was familiar to me. I kept looking for the mountains to tell me which way was West (and admittedly,  I still think of which way Colorado is...) The way I spent weekends changed: less outdoor time, more people time. Less hiking, more biking. Less big-city events, more small-group board game marathons. We're a creative bunch.

But throughout the years, more and more, I find myself feeling oddly defensive about Nebraska, like "Don't apologize to me. I like Nebraska!" or "This state is more than cornfields and football." But these indignations often fall on deaf ears, because, to them, I've settled.I've been brainwashed.

But I can truthfully, whole-heartedly say: I really like Nebraska.

What I've noticed is that while I've been here for six years, I don't respond to Nebraska-bashing the way true Nebraskans do. They don't agree with the critics. They don't argue with the critics. They just grin with this knowing smile that says, "Sure. Say what you will. More for the rest of us..." It's like their keeping a little-known, secret family recipe and they don't feel sorry or regretful one little bit.

This place is simple.
Not much hype.
Not too fast.
Not too stressed.
The weather is hot in the summer and cold in the winter
(like many other places in the world that are not Southern California).
The people are kind.
The population is surprisingly diverse.
We resettle homeless refugees. 
This place attracts nomads.
And hippies.
And college kids.
And good, reasonable farmers and family types.And local businesses.
And farmer's markets.
And yogis.
And world travelers who like coming home to a place that harbors a common place sensibility.
And content people who don't need loud noises and bright flashing lights to be entertained. 

I've said many times in conversations about Nebraska that a person can be happy in Nebraska and miserable in Hawaii. It you're waiting for things to make you happy, you won't be happy anywhere. I think Nebraskans may know this better than most. That their joy can be found not only in breathtaking landscapes and big cities, but also in a community of people and experiences that always feels like home.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Leaning In

The beautiful thing about marriage is that when one of you feels fragile/weary/inadequate/overwhelmed, the other person is there to hold you.

The awful thing about marriage is that when both of you feel fragile/weary/inadequate/overwhelmed, the other person is not there to hold you.

Well...not in theory.
Not immediately anyway.

I remember coming to this realization about a year ago before we were married. I was talking to my brother-in-law, Ben. I asked him what happens when both people are feeling low. Who supports who? He said that each person kind of silently sizes up the situation and decides who's having the worst day. And inevitably someone steps forward. And even when you're tired. And even when you're weak. You lean in and support the other.

This is what happened tonight. Both of us came home feeling fragile/weary/inadequate/overwhelmed and we went to our corners. I stood at the kitchen sink pretending to do dishes longing to be validated in my exhaustion. He went to the bedroom longing to feel whole in his brokenness. We both wanted to be seen, to be heard, to be held. But neither wanted to lean in first.

Ten months ago, we played "Dear True Love" (Sleeping At Last) at our wedding ceremony. And as if set for a Hollywood screenplay, while I stood at the sink, that song came on iTunes. And that just made it worse.

Dear true love
I'm a writer without any words
I'm a story that nobody heard
When I'm without you

I am a voice
I am a voice without any sound
I'm a treasure map that nobody found
When I'm without you

So with this ring
May you always know one thing
What little that I have to give
I will give it all to you
You're my one true love

It was worse because I distinctly remember standing at the ceremony during that song and thinking, "I am the luckiest woman alive." And that's still true. And that's so easily forgotten in moments like this.

Moments like this remind me of how Dr. Brene Brown says that "vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” And she defines courage as “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

And if that's true (and I know it's true), we are one damn power house of courage. 

Even in moments like this.
Learning to lean in. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Without Fear

Recently, my sister, Ashley, and my brother-in-law, Ben, were discussing love and fear. About how so frequently our decisions, and thus, our actions are based on one of the two. About how when we are living in a state of fear, we are often lacking the capacity to love.

"At least every hour," Ben said, "that's probably how often I think about how love and fear affect my daily life."

And Ashley said that sometimes she wonders if she's talking about it too much, because the concept is such a regular part of her thinking.

I told her she isn't talking about it too much because every time I hear it from her, I'm reminded of it's importance and probably couldn't hear it enough.

I'm a pro at making decisions based on fear:
I'll lose that if I...
He'll hate me if I...
She'll think this if I...
They might ____ if I...
If I vote for that person, he'll...

Surely, a careful mind weighs decisions based on pros and cons. But--on my best days---I can tell you precise moments in which I am being driven by fear or driven by love. And my gut knows it. And my soul knows it. And I know better.

It looks like avoiding an important discussion with my husband because I'd rather continue living in fear, than have to face and answer I'm afraid of.

It looks like cowering in the presence of my superior because I'm pretty sure she doesn't like me.

It looks like biting off more than I can chew because I'm absolutely sure that the someday the resources will run out and I'll be sorry I didn't hoard more than I needed.

It looks like assuming the worst about a situation because I think it's protecting me from pain or failure.

It looks like being afraid of the dark because it takes less energy than having faith in the light.

Fear is so often where we live that it takes a bright beacon of light to consider that there's any other way to live: from a place of love.

It's like people who take the time to create beautiful works of art in run-down parts of town just to make a dark place a little lighter.

It's like putting your heart out there in a vulnerable way because it's worth the risk to show the love.

It's like smiling at a stranger even though they may never smile back.

It's like giving up on conspiracy theories and "what ifs..." about the future because there is absolutely no way they are making me a better, more whole-hearted person today.

It's like living now because any other place (past or present) is rooted in fear and regret, whereas this moment holds so much joy.

It's like sitting and listening to a dear friend pour out their biggest, darkest, and worst fears and saying, "I'm so sorry. I hear you. I see you. It's going to be all right."

That is a "love that casts out all fear" in action.

The magazine I read this morning asked readers to consider, "What would you do if fear didn't hold you back?"

I'd stop worrying about the future.

I'd be completely un-attracted to trendy magazines.

I'd be less concerned with Facebook status's.

I'd trust my trust my husband 100% when he tells me how much he loves me.

I'd pursue a graduate degree with confidence and vigor.

I'd believe that my abilities are everything they need to be.

I'd live more fruitfully in the present moment.

I'd be more open to the world around me.

I'd live from a place of love.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Daring Greatly

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how 
the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. 

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly
who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does 
actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, 
the great devotions; who spends himself 
in a worthy cause; 

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, 
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly..."

-Theodore Roosevelt

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Am I daring greatly? 
Is my face "marred by dust and sweat and blood" in the struggle for something worthy? 

I assume that my version of being "marred" is probably just being tired or bored, which feels far less valiant and brave. I may feel "marred" simply because it was a long day at work and I'm cranky. But I doubt that was what Roosevelt was talking about. 

Am I working for something?
Am I striving for anything?
Am I willing to enter the arena?
And if so, for what?

Recently, I've been reading Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It's about examining our own lives and asking, "Am I living a meaningful life? If my life were made into a movie, would I want to watch it? Would others?" I imagine many of us would say: "Nope."

I've read Miller's book before, but at this point in my life, I read it differently. Every page begs me to answer this question, "What do I want to be when I grow up? How will I get there?" and  "How will it matter?"

I don't know.

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I think my dear friend, Kylie, is daring greatly. She's a twenty-something pal of mine who just moved to Kathmandu, Nepal to teach through an organization called Tiny Hands International, which seeks to rescue young girls who are being sold into sex slavery. Whew! No small thing. She's so brave. 

But would Kylie say she is "daring greatly"? Would she say that every moment of every day is simply brimming with intrigue and risk and purpose? No. I don't think she would. But I think she is. Because life requires a few moments of boredom and inopportune trips to the grocery store. But she is one of the most courageous people I know.

Is daring something we feel or something we are?

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My husband, Jeremy, says that he most enjoys work in which there is 90% boredom and 10% spur-of-the-moment-split-second-decision action. That he enjoys having a job where he is required to come alive at a moment's notice when it really counts. 

So if 90% of that time is boredom, does that discredit the 10% where crucial decisions are made and one may dare greatly? Maybe it's less about a life overpacked with opportunities to risk it all and more about creating a life in which these opportunities have the potential to arise. And when they do, we simply. show. up.

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When I was eight years-old, I wrote an obituary and a will and put together a box of belongings and keepsakes that I would want to grab quickly in the event of a fire. Talk about tragic.  I have regularly existed in an eternal state-of-mind. Always have.

So maybe that's why this idea of daring greatly and living with purpose holds such a prominent and undeniable place in my life. I can't hardly shake it. Unfortunately, I tend to spend more time fretting about not living a purposeful life than actually living a purposeful life. 

What would it take for me to step into the arena of something risky and difficult and life-changing? Something that may leave me battered and dirty but stronger and changed?

What will that arena be?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ten Month Anniversary

Our marriage is not a balloon.
Air light.

It's not poppable.
Vulnerable to sharp objects.
Or too much pressure.
Or heat.

If it were, our marriage would last about as long as the Kardashian's tend to.
The relationship would be foundation-less.

Our marriage is like a bowling ball.
Painful when carelessly dropped.
Especially on fingers and toes and hearts.

It gains momentum the longer it rolls.
It is a force to be reckoned with.
It can hit a wall.
Leave a dent.
But inevitably pick up speed again when worked for.
When pushed.

This weekend our marriage felt balloony. Like our four years together could be threatened. Challenged. All with one careless comment.  As if we've never fought. As if we've never hurt each other. Sometimes each wall feels new. And equally painful. As though "this" is the one we just can't overcome.

But I'm reminded that our marriage is not a balloon. It's not so easily tarnished.
It's a bowling ball for goodness sake!
We've worked for that.
We've limbered up.
Strengthened our "compromise" and "forgiveness" muscles.
We've trained for moments like this.
We've had a lot of experience.

And here it is. Another wall.

We don't get through these conversations because they're easy.
Or second nature.
We don't get through these conversations because we know them by heart.
Or they no longer surprise us.

But the point isn't in expertly predicting what the next wall will look like.
The lesson comes in learning tools that apply to nearly every wall.

We don't know the ins-and-outs of every wall.
But we know walls.

So certain tools have helped us, like:
-listening (duh)
-we say things like "I feel..." and "I hear you saying..."
-we ask questions for clarification
-we hold hands even when we don't want to
-we don't raise our voices at each other (because who needs a raise in blood pressure at a moment like this?)
-we've vowed that our favorite curse words are off the table when we're upset
-we don't use past ammunition in present spats
-we remember that this is what the promise is for

Even mid-wall, our marriage is a bowling ball.

And only ten months in...that's no small thing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Eleven Weeks

A dear friend asked me recently, "You haven't blogged in awhile. Are you okay?"

She asks because she knows that I only know how I feel about something after I write about it. And when I haven't written, I haven't processed. And when I haven't processed, I'm on auto-pilot. Making decisions on the fly. Merely keeping up.

We are moving in May. It's been a good 9 months of practicing adulthood and marriage in a safe place. And an even better 6+ years living in good 'ol Nebraska. We've created memories and become adults. We've received degrees and gotten married. This place has served us well.  And leaving feels odd, unnatural. But we know it's time and there isn't much here for Jeremy's career and we can only talk about seeking great adventure for so long until it becomes, well, all talk.

So we'll move in May, drop our stuff in Colorado, and head back to camp. Another place that has served us well and gives us a little time to plan our next move: Colorado or South Korea?

To Colorado? A familiar place with people we know, job opportunities, and the potential for graduate work?

To South Korea? A new place as English teachers with decent pay and the opportunity to travel?

The choice is actually less in our hands than I'd like to think, as the application mountain to work overseas is a bit steep.

And this process has brought up an interestingly conflictual situation in my life:
-I have eleven weeks left in Lincoln, a place we'll be sad to leave.
-I have eleven weeks left at my job, a place I'll be ready to leave.

So, in the same moment, I want time to slow down and I want time to speed up.
It's a problem.

This theme of "time" has been ever-present in my life for the past year or so.
How do we perceive time?
Why do some weeks drag?
And others fly by?
How does my awareness effect my perception of time?
Should I fill up these last few weeks with events, parties, and such?
Or should I do absolutely nothing and hope that slows it down?

Here's the central issue most of you have already come to: Why, my dear, are you so concerned with controlling time? Can you let time pass as time will and be content no matter what?

I want to say, "No."
But I'm going to say, "Yes."

Because no amount of willing the Universe to follow my directions will make it so. 
I'll say it 'till I believe it.

One freaking day at a time.