Tag: Gratitude

31Aug

It’s All in the Wrist

I have tendinitis in my right hand and wrist. Have I mentioned that here before? It’s relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of life; I can’t lift much with my hand, and Dan has to chop the vegetables for dinner, but it’s never struck me as anything to write home about. Perhaps part of that is because the tendinitis started under the dumbest possible circumstances: I opted one day to carry a far-too-heavy grocery bag to the car rather than going out of my way to get a cart, and the next day, I couldn’t hold a fork. I wore a splint on my hand for a bit, tried anti-inflammatories, electrotherapy, and corticosteroid injections, and then decided that I’d just live with the stupid thing. After all, it’s not like I could take three months off using my dominant hand in order to let it rehabilitate. I’ve got things to do, places to drive, a household to care for. Rest wasn’t even on the spectrum of possibility for me.

That, dear friends? Was four years ago. Four. YEARS. Last week, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in which I realized I’ve been living with a gimpy hand for nearly half a decade just to avoid three months of recovery time. Algebra may not be my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t even out. (Cancel out? Equal out? Blerg.)

Wednesday was my Duh Day, and I strapped the splint back on before adding up the next three months and putting them into the calendar as milestones. The final one is on Thanksgiving Day, when I will be able to eat turkey with my right hand if it still remembers the mechanics. The timing of this feels like no accident. Six days into rest therapy, and the reasons for gratitude are already piled up to my ears… though to be perfectly honest, I’m having a hard time differentiating between gratitude and guilt.

I’m really ridiculously bad at letting others take care of me. I first noticed this tendency in myself the day during junior high when I got faint in class but instinctively turned down my long-time crush’s offer of water and attention. (Commence six weeks of private head-desking in my diary.) Being as little trouble as possible is a virtue in my weird brain. I want to do All The Things myself, thank you, and the scenario most likely to drive me demented is having to rely on others for the basics of life.

So, pretty much exactly what’s going down right now.

For the last six days, my husband and girls have been taking care of everything for me from food preparation to deodorant application (#truelove), and only one of us is chafing under this arrangement. It’s like I’m still in junior high, unable to grasp that someone’s caring actions might be rooted in genuine care for me. I have been tempted dozens of times to fling off my splint and this whole three-month recovery attempt because it’s too hard—because accepting the gift of rest is far more difficult than working my tendons to shambles. The next twelve weeks lurk beyond the limits of my imagination.

This is the same strain of ridiculous, however, that prompts otherwise sane adults to ignore injuries for four years. Rejecting help out of misplaced guilt is dumber than giving yourself tendinitis. I know this, no matter how poorly I demonstrate it. The fight begins and ends in my head.

It helps, actually, to look down at my wrists, the source of so much maddening incapability right now. On the right one, I have metal guides velcroed into place; on the left, a grace note. Helplessness twinned with gratitude, my limitations the backdrop for gift. I am still frustrated with myself and still predisposed toward guilt; I hate having to ask so much of my little family, cheerful though they are to pitch in. This time is good for us all though, I suspect. My girls are going to learn to clean the bathrooms, and I’m going to learn to chill. We’re all going to survive these three months, and maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls into town, it won’t be the recovered hand that I’m celebrating so much as the recovered ability to rest.

(Also, the amazing left-handed typing skills that are sure to kick in aaaaaannnyyy time now… right? Right?)

4Jun

Village Appreciation Day

Elementary schools are set up a little differently here in Italy than they are in the U.S. For one thing, kids here typically go to school six days a week but only in the mornings. This allows families to eat the main meal of the day together, and then children spend the afternoon doing homework, going to extracurricular activities, and living it up at the neighborhood playgrounds. There are some schools with a five-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day setup to accommodate working parents, but most families still choose mornings-only and enlist grandparents to babysit in the afternoons if need be. (We don’t have the grandparent option, but since Dan and I both started working from home, family life has become about 2,089,573,101 times less complicated. And all God’s entrepreneurs said amen.)

Another significant difference here is that teachers are assigned to a class in first grade and then stay with that group of kids all the way through fifth grade. This can be wonderful and reassuring if you get good teachers.

…And if you don’t?

I devoted significant energy to worrying over this four years ago when Natalie was about to start first grade and again last year when it was Sophie’s turn. What if the girls ended up with someone calloused and grim, someone to whom children’s presence tasted like unripe lemons? Someone drunk on power or palest green with inexperience or prejudiced against foreigners like us? What if their teachers were the kind to tread on sensitive, creative little hearts? What if my girls had to spend five long years’ worth of school days in a classroom taut with tension and defeat?

I was reminded of these fears last Saturday morning at the girls’ school recital, but not for the reason you might think. Sophie’s first-grade class started off with a little skit about how they had once been afraid they’d get witches for teachers, and I laughed along with the other parents while reflecting that my own fears for my daughter hadn’t been so very different. I had gone into my girls’ school experience geared up to fear and resent their teachers, imagining the worst of them before we’d even met.

This was a sobering realization as I looked around the room on Saturday and saw the faces of the women who have guided and encouraged and invested in my girls over the school year(s), women who were every bit as proud of my children’s academic progress as I was. I kept sneaking peeks at the teachers during the girls’ performances, and the affection radiating from their faces was enough to untie a knot somewhere in my throat. Fear was a distant (and regretful) memory. All I had left was gratitude, so full-bodied and sweet it blurred my vision.

Gratitude for those who have made education their lives’ work.
Gratitude for the creativity and fun they bring to the classroom despite budget cuts and bureaucratic hurdle-fests.
Gratitude for the unique imprints they have left on my daughters through their insights, personalities, and talents.
Gratitude for their presence in my girls’ lives, every teacher a support column to their childhoods.

I once believed that “It takes a village” was liberal propaganda designed to undermine the family structure, and I’m sure that residual fallout from that belief helps explain why I was so afraid of the girls’ teachers sight-unseen. As I’ve experienced in so many aspects of my journey away from fundamentalism, though, fears lose their claustrophobic grip once I’m out in the spacious, grace-full open. I’m not saying that bad teachers don’t exist or that we haven’t been fortunate so far, but my mindset is coming from a different direction now—one of preemptive appreciation rather than preemptive dread. And as Saturday morning solidified for me, I am above and beyond grateful for this little village in which my girls get to grow.

27Mar

I Am Not an Abomination, and Neither Are You

When I was a girl, I believed I was fundamentally wrong. The exact term that rings in my memory is “an abomination to God.” An abomination. I didn’t have any context for that word outside of the Bible—in fact, I’m not sure I do even now—but I understood that its five syllables shook with the intensity of God’s disgust.

I gave proud looks.
I was deceitful.
I pushed back against rules.

I’d memorized verses declaring each of those things an abomination, a detestable affront to God, and over time, the word worked its way past my actions and straight into my identity. I didn’t try to be proud, see. I couldn’t help it; my entire theology was based on micromanaging myself toward perfection, and any time that I succeeded, my natural reaction was pride. I didn’t have many grounds to feel good about myself, but if I was managing more holiness than someone else in a certain area, my mind latched onto smugness like a drowning cat to a piece of driftwood. Pride wasn’t my choice; it just was. And that made me an abomination.

The same went for my deceitful and rebellious streaks. Lying and hiding were coping mechanisms for me, my body’s only strategy for self-defense. Rebellion was likewise instinctual; I never flouted rules, but I endlessly wrestled with the ones that suffocated me, trying to find loopholes through which to breathe. I was born with a question mark tattooed on my soul, and I believed the only reason God didn’t smite me for it was because Jesus had him on a choke chain.

There is a fiercely painful dissonance in believing that the one who made you is repulsed by who you are. I don’t think this is a sensation unique to my experience either. Mainstream Christianity teaches that we are born with a “sin nature” that God cannot abide, even though God is the maker and creator of all, and that we must perform series of steps to effectively hide our depravity from him before it is used as grounds to condemn us. I have heard thousands of sermons over the years to that effect.

Believing this way, that God considered who-I-was an abomination, stamped the dark impression of guilt onto my every waking moment. Not even those times of smugness when I was particularly rocking at righteousness could blunt my impression that God was gagging in my direction. I ricocheted endlessly between self-loathing and pride, my psyche working overtime to protect me from my theology. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out that this was a nightmarish way to live.

All the same, I had it easy in one regard: Nobody ganged up with God against me. If anything, I was praised by other Christians for striving so hard after holiness. Not once in my life has a group of people discriminated against me over those parts of myself that the Bible calls abominations. If I have ever defended my identity, it’s because I’ve wanted to, not because I’ve been under attack. I find instant acceptance in most Christian circles despite the ways in which my habits diverge from accepted biblical standards, and fellow believers’ open arms have strengthened the faith that I might have abandoned long ago without their support.

Not everyone is so privileged.

Among all the “abominations” listed in the Bible, from telling lies to eating shrimp to stirring up conflict to shedding innocent blood, the evangelical Christian community has picked out one on which to concentrate its outrage. You already know which one. You can’t help but know it. It’s on Saturday night’s news and on Sunday morning’s PowerPoint and on legislative drawing tables around the world. It’s the mountain on which we are willing to let others die.

This week, evangelicals became so incensed over World Vision, a humanitarian aid organization, expanding its hiring policy to allow married gay Christians that thousands of children lost their sponsorships. Let me put that in other words: People who claim to follow Jesus stopped providing nutrition, education, and health care to impoverished children in order to make a theological point.

Just before getting into bed last night, I saw that World Vision had reversed its decision, caving after two short days of uproar. The news settled on my heart like a boulder, and I lay awake for a long time exploring the contours of that weight. Being a Christian has never made me so sad.

I know what it’s like to feel that God despises my identity but not what it must feel like to have millions of fellow humans joining in. I can’t imagine having even just one person so repulsed by who-I-am that he or she would withdraw help from a child and call it my fault. I can’t imagine trying to reconcile my faith with my orientation only to have a nation of heterosexuals shouting from every available platform that I was choosing deviance. I can’t imagine having my heart and soul and talents rejected outright by the Christian community due to an inflexible interpretation of a few select Bible verses.

Can you imagine it?

I’m positive that the sorrow I feel today is a pale shadow of the pain my LGBT brothers and sisters are experiencing this week… this month… this lifetime during which they will be dragged again and again into a religious culture war in which everyone loses. Other writers have already made the points that bear repeating this week (see Rachel Held Evans, Jamie Wright, Jen Hatmaker, Erika Morrison, Nish Weiseth, and Kristen Howerton), and I know better than to think I can singlehandedly change popular doctrine. I do think it’s important though that I lend my voice to the discussion—if nothing else, so that my own LGBT friends will know that they’re not the brunt of every Christian’s theology.

I am grateful all the way to my bone marrow that my view of God did not stay rooted in that oppressive past. I still read the Bible but with very different eyes. Jesus is real to me now—unconditional love is real to me now—and through the clarity of that love, everything I once thought about religion is up for grabs. Except the view of a single human soul as an abomination. That’s not up for grabs. That’s just straight-up gone.

2Jul

Heavyweight

Hello there, July. For the record, I do not condone summer’s refusal to wait for my go-ahead. I’m still wandering wobbly-kneed through the second week of June, and I really would have appreciated all the school closings and triple digit temperatures holding off until I could collect myself. About that last one—Did you know that we don’t have air conditioning? The Italian strategy for surviving summer involves 1) nudity, 2) napping, and 3) nude napping at the beach, and while each is worthy in its own right, circumstances occasionally dictate that I be dressed and/or conscious. Maybe the heat’s just getting to me more this summer because my head’s still back in strawberry season.

I’ve barely touched my computer over the last three weeks except for busy work, and I’ve felt this kind of sad, longing, tired push-pull every time I’ve walked by its closed lid. Between a string of emotional anvil drops and a rejection notice at the tail end of a heartwound publication process, my ability to string words together seemed to drain right out of me. One of the ways I traditionally deal with word-bereavement is rock solid stoicism. I decide our relationship was never meant to be and that it’s about time I embraced my true calling as a housecleaner. And then I cry into the mop water. And the dishwater. And the tonic water. I’m a real heavyweight.

But even in all the crumminess and confusion of the last few weeks, I never felt truly disconnected, and I want to thank you from the dregs of my heart for that. Your notes and prayers after our friend’s death sat with me at his funeral and shared the dinner table with his grieving family, and I’m a kind of grateful that can’t be articulated.  I’m also deeply thankful for your encouragement to be here, to value my own writerly heart enough to ditch the mop water (our seasonal infestation of ants thanks you too, btw) and rescue my blog from solitary confinement. Thankthankthank you.

It’s better to start summer late than never, right? Here’s to more connecting, less mopping, and nude napping on the beach.

~~~ 

How are you welcoming the summer?

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

20Feb

Light Bulb

A difficult-to-replace light bulb in our dining room burned out this morning just as I was sitting down to teach an English lesson, and the day never really recovered its glow. Between heavy-handed clouds and a tricky relational situation, the hours slumped by with my mind sticking increasingly to the soles of my feet. Some days are just downers.

But you know, every time I catch myself brushing off a bad day as no more than a 24-hour inconvenience, gratefulness swoops the air from my lungs.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote the following journal entry:

I found a pocket of calm today, but it doesn’t suit me. It’s the kind of calm that comes from heartsickness rather than peace, and I can tell I’m not fooling anyone. I’m in a low place right now. Really staggeringly low. Last night in bed, I told Dan, “I can’t find my heart anymore,” then my eyes clamped shut. He whispered, “I miss you,” before falling asleep, and I lay awake most of the night feeling heavier than I thought was possible.

I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain. 

At least I put on makeup today in honor of Natalie’s birthday. That’s something.

Alzheimer’s runs in the female line of my family, and I’m bracing myself for the day when memories begin to trickle through my fingers, but no matter how many years I live or how many senses I lose over the course of them, I will never forget what it felt like to wake up suffocating, morning after pitch black morning. I will never forget the way depression tortured my mind into believing it wasn’t depression at all, only some mental inadequacy. I will never forget how bad days back then teetered on the serrations of a knife.

Today wasn’t one of those days, and for that, every inch of my muscle memory breathes gratitude. Today, a light bulb burned out, and the weather glowered, and I had a few frustrating conversations… but I had some great conversations too. I sat on my husband’s lap at the dinner table and grinned kisses to the delight of our children (and eternal embarrassment of our teenage house guest). I read stories with the girls and chased them shrieking around the house for tickle wars, and I tucked them well-loved into bed. I accomplished things that I’m proud of—you better believe that cleaning the kitchen is up there—and laughed often.

 Not a bad day

Bad day? I think not.

1Feb

New Month’s Resolutions

  1. Bake cookies. It’s been far too long.
  2. Forego so much as new socks and go all Dave Ramsey on our credit card’s ass.
  3. Haul my sleepy bones out in the fresh air and give my work-out shoes a run (ha!) for their money.
  4. Cultivate gratitude.
    (For the first snowfall of the year, the air dancing white;
    For a washing machine up to the repeated challenge of sick days;
    For beauty growing wild out of old hurts;
    For sugar-dusted sunsets lingering one minute closer to spring.)

What about you? Any dear little challenges to keep February on its toes?

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