I have always loved the ritual of creating New Year’s resolutions. As my childhood friend Sarah can attest, I’ve jumped at the chance to recreate myself every January since we were in junior high together. I would always commit to something extraordinary like: “This year I will change my personality!” “I will practice perfect posture!” “I will memorize at least one poem every week!” I put so much emphasis on the magic of starting a brand new year, like a do-over, I thought the slate was wiped clean and I could remake myself. Back then, I wanted to be the shy, quiet type that the boys seemed to like. For those of you who know me, you immediately recognize the grand feat necessary for me to “change my personality” and the unlikelihood of which not even a miracle could supply.
Twenty-five years later, I still relish the notion of starting something new and fresh; re-examining old goals, naming new ones. But my “resolutions” are no longer plural. I followed the lead of a friend who challenged us a few years ago to bear in mind a single word or phrase to guide us throughout the year. I’ve adopted that habit and found it to be freeing and focusing at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easier to keep instead of abandoning by the end of the first month.
I was very intentional last year in declaring my word as “Abundance.” Tired of settling for the norm and what had become mediocre, I wanted to know the abundant life promised in Scripture (John 10, Ephesians 3). I spent a long time in January crafting a large art piece that would consistently remind me of what I had prayerfully set out in the beginning of the year to find.
I clung to that word “abundance” looking for evidence of it anywhere and everywhere. But by the end of October, I was beginning to think that God misunderstood my message.
2015 began with a colonoscopy in January and ended with a double ear infection and thrush in November. Peppered in between those health concerns the year held injuries and nutrient deficiencies. Job, asset and relational losses were also among the wreckage. I literally thought to myself that the signals of prayer to the heavens were crossed and the message was heard that I wanted 2015 to be a year of abundant…burdens!
I am still trying to make meaning out of the past 12 months. But there was a moment in August after I had endured a vocational crisis where I was able to experientially grasp the concept of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” During that month of mourning, Karl was there at every turn to comfort me and literally hold me together. I would wake from terrifying nightmares at 2 or 3 in the morning and beg him to just put his arms around me tightly so I could feel safe again. On the weekends when I still couldn’t break the chains of anxiety, I would weep and ask him to rub my back. I called him or texted him numerous times each day asking for reassurance or the chance to process my feelings. In 15 years of marriage, I never needed him like I did then. And when I needed that desperately, I was finally comforted in an abundant way.
Never before have I ever been the touchy-feely type. I didn’t understand what was so special about giving and receiving hugs, or snuggling or hand-holding. But after a painful year of desperate need, I found comfort in the human touch. Now, Karl says with a wink that I’ve gotten a bit greedy in my need for his comfort. “Hold me? Snuggle with me?, Scratch my back?,” I say daily. I know where to find the soothing I need. And he offers it to me in spades. But it took an abundance of need for me to find the source of abundant comfort.
And as I look at other instances from throughout the year, what becomes clear, in hindsight, is that there was an abundance of trials, to be sure, but for the first time in my life, there was also an abundance of comfort. So, maybe the wires to heaven weren’t crossed all along and God understood my message perfectly.
Moving to a new town has left me feeling a bit like a foreigner in these beginning months of transition. I’m the newbie overwhelmed by the slight cultural differences I pick up on every single day from what people wear to how people engage or don’t engage around here. I’m the annoyingly slow driver trying to figure out where I’m going and how to get there because these streets are not the ones I’ve known most of my life. I’m the mama who has to ask a hundred questions about a hundred different things going on at the kids’ schools because we haven’t been a part of this community for years. It’s exhausting for this gal right here (yes, my two thumbs were just pointing toward my cheesy self).
The truth is, trying new things and putting myself out there has always been a struggle. That may sound shocking to some who know of my family adventures to Uganda and my seeker-tendencies that have led to varying vocational paths requiring substantial risk and change. The only explanation I can offer is that when there is a clear and undeniable intuitive sense that a calling is connected to some kind of divine energy, I know well enough to follow that curiosity even if I think it may lead to an anxiety-induced heart attack and do me in for good. Somehow that sense of the Divine compels me enough to move in spite of my own fears and discomforts.
The anxiety that has accompanied this new adventure hasn’t been the paralyzing kind I have known with previous out-of-my-small-comfort-zone experiences. It’s more of a gut-punching every morning reminder that each day continues to require courage. It takes courage to take up space in this world with billions of human beings walking around all over the place. It takes courage to decide that I can make this town, this neighborhood, and this community the place I belong. It takes courage to determine that you can make spaces or places or relationships in this world your home simply because your story has led you there. It takes courage…but it also takes hope. Why muster up the courage to show up day after day if there isn’t first the hope that it even matters?
I am banking on lots of hope these days. I hope that this move wasn’t just a random and unnecessary re-routing. I hope that the lessons we are all learning in this experience mark us for good. I hope that if I keep showing up every day, mustering the courage to face new things and new faces, that my showing up isn’t just for me – that it’s also for the ways I will mark the world around me. I hope that is true for all of us – that our stories matter in this world – that what the world needs is simply for everyone to really just show up every darn day.
Over the past few months, I have been studying to take the final licensing board exam. Passing that exam would give me the highest credentialing available for my degree. Not passing would mean paying to take the test again after six months had elapsed. I didn’t want to chance not passing, so I have dedicated many, many hours over the last month to preparing for today, Friday the 13th, the day I arranged in advance to take the test.
Spoiler Alert: The fact that there is a full moon tonight and that this day on the calendar may be considered unlucky did not have a negative effect on my test-taking abilities. I passed with flying colors and am moving on to submit all the necessary paperwork for state licensure.
But, after I received my scores and realized that I passed, I was remarkably aware of my disappointment. I had reviewed an encyclopedia of study materials. Practiced on over 1,000 questions. Listened to over 15 audio CDs. Handwritten 200 index study cards in order to take a 200 question test in less than 2 hours. What? I walked out of the building and thought to myself, “That’s it?” Three years of graduate school and a subsequent 3,000 hours of practice were necessary to sit for a measly 200 question test wherein only 160 of those questions were actually graded and I only needed to get 91 of them right. That doesn’t make any sense.
And yet, it does. All too often, I evaluate my progress and my profession by external measures of achievement. I defer to some governing board for a blessing. I buy into the status quo that asserts my competencies must be measured by a single exam, rather than by the passion and commitment I have to doing good work. I am not denying that there are appropriate measures and guidelines necessary to ensure that the people practicing are indeed capable and competent. I am simply acknowledging that I trust external measures to tell me what is true about myself more than I do my own intuition and self-knowledge.
There are some things I needed to learn before sitting for that exam. For instance, did you know that the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient is a measure of linear correlation between two variables X and Y, giving a value between +1 and -1 inclusive, where 1 is total positive correlation, 0 is no correlation, and -1 is total negative correlation? Yeah, I didn’t either. But there are other things that I already know: I am passionate about this work. And that simply means that I would have practiced on over 2,000 questions. Listened to over 30 audio CDs. Handwritten 500 index study cards and taken a 400 question test if that’s what I needed to do in order to have the privilege of sitting with people and hearing their stories each and every day.
In an effort to model wholeness, or τέλειος as I have written about elsewhere, I am going to describe the opposite and equally compelling mystery of the love I found in Ikea with the extreme contempt I discovered in Costco.
Like so many others, I too have fallen prey to the lure of a big box store full of more-than-mediocre quality items in bulk at discounted prices. Ever since I discovered that Costco sold diapers and formula at nearly half the cost of grocery stores I have made weekly trips there for my goods and sundries. In Colorado, I seemed to time my visits where I experienced the giant warehouse nearly empty and I had free reign to peruse at my leisure. Generally, that time was Friday nights. Karl and I would take the kids and sit them side-by-side in the giant carts and meander our way through the warehouse stocking up on everything from dog food to underwear. And the luxury of also being able to skip making dinner at home and instead dine on hot dogs and pizza slices available in Costco at a cheap rate proved equally satisfying.
However, that scenario has not been the case in Seattle. Whether living in the city proper or overpopulation, I can not for the life of me find a time to shop at Costco when I don’t have to park at the back of the lot and sell my soul for a cart just to get discounted fruits and vegetables and milk. Don’t forget the milk! I have tried arriving the minute they open their doors in the morning. I have also tried going over my lunch hour. I have tried arriving thirty minutes before closing time. I have gone on weekends and weekdays, and even holidays. All this trying has led to no avail. There was one time when it seemed like I would be able to drive my cart down the aisles without being forced into an unhappy charade of bumper carts. It was Black Friday. Since Costco is already discounted and wasn’t offering extreme pricing, the store was only moderately busy. O, how I wish every Friday was Black Friday at Costco.
Alas, that is a dream of time gone by. When hope was high and life worth living. Because the tigers come at night, in the morning, and during the day with their cart’s wheels soft as thunder. And they tear your hope apart and they turn your dream to shame.
Now, I wait in one of ten lanes behind six cars to fill my car with cheap gas. Then I get at least 2,000 of my 10,000 daily steps just by walking from my car to the store’s entrance. Then, I traverse the landscape of bulk specialty items like camping equipment and lawn fertilizer on my way to the back of the store only to realize after I added another 2,000 steps that they no longer sell Tillamook Tilla-Moos. Those slices of happiness were apparently on a month-to-month lease at Costco and have recently been evicted.
Then, I patiently wait outside the dairy room rubbing my hands together preparing to shiver. I am pausing to allow the cul-de-sac refrigerator room to empty, and am cut off by another more aggressive cart driver who wore a coat and didn’t need to warm up first. If men experience road rage behind the wheels of their powerful cars, I am a woman who experiences cart rage behind the wheels of my powerful over-sized Costco shopping cart. I fantasize pushing past the island of seasonal confectionaries and ramming the ankles of the one who cut me off. However, I practice my deep breathing techniques and remain controlled and only think angry, expletive thoughts.
I finish my trip having added an additional 4,000 steps because I forgot to get toilet paper and end up in a check out line with four carts in front of me. Because the line is so long, I am conveniently placed waiting in the snack section and taunted by a giant vat of Milk Duds. I am already going to spend a whole paycheck on only ten items, so, why not add the Milk Duds? I won’t even pretend that they will last until my visit next week. Because really, the only thing that gets me through this ordeal every week is a giant vat of something. Given it’s size and caloric content, it should last a long time, whatever that vat of something is, but given that I am feeding my contempt what it demands – sugar to comatize my anxiety – I confess it may be eaten by the time I drive home. Not really. But only because I don’t even like Milk Duds.
Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin of control. Anxiety says that you must have control of everything. Depression says that you have control over nothing. Neither of these sentiments are entirely true.
Listen in to find out what we can and cannot control and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in your own life. Follow along and download the workbook.
*We invite you to respond to these questions in your own journal or to simply take time to ponder and reflect while sipping on a great cup of coffee or tea…or maybe with a glass of red wine.
- Where do you find yourself most often in regards to your family? Anxious? Depressed?
- Can you name one thing that you could give up trying to control?
- Can you name one thing that you will make an effort to begin controlling?
- What are some obstacles to believing that God has control? What are some obstacles to believing that you have some control?
- After you give something up (either anxiety/control or depression/lack of control) there will be a space – will you fill it with kindness and self-care? How so? Specifically? No, really, write down the ways you will start introducing care for yourself.