“Why”–Every Day as Sunday (Army Spouse Cleaning House, Installment Five)

Well, strap in, this is a long one. And I get a little preachy. I know not all of my readers follow the same faith that I do, but I can’t talk about deployment without going there. So…

My husband is home, and Easter approaches. The last good handful of weeks of this deployment, I found myself constantly asking, “why?” Why am I doing all this? Not the mammoth list I shared in January (because the truth is, somewhere around late February, I realized I wasn’t actually tackling much of it). I was asking myself “why” about really basic things I’d always assumed I had to do. Big and small. Like, why am I insisting on using real plates when I can throw away disposable? Who am I doing this for? Why do I struggle against this need to meet all of my friends’ needs, and perfectly? Why do I overthink everything I’m responsible for? Why this incessant need to be right, as if my life depends on it?

Wait. Maybe I do actually believe that my life depends on it. Maybe that’s why every time I try to do something good, even something small, I feel drained. Because subconsciously, I’ve asked every good work I do to support the weight of my life, that is, to validate who I am. Maybe that’s why I found I desperately needed a come to Jesus meeting with a trusted friend at the playground while our kids ate fast food. I needed to know if it’s everyone else, or am I just crazy, or both (thanks, girl).

So as deployment came to a close, I chose not to go out with a bang (not too much), but with a thoughtful, reevaluating decrescendo. I wanted to get to the bottom of the angst, and I could see no better time to give myself space to do it than right away. Because, honestly, this isn’t simply a season of stress. I mean, it is, but I’ve been in a “season of stress” since, I don’t know, high school?

Sometimes, you just have to unwind your brain and heart to see what’s crept in when you’ve been so active. And to even ask why you need to be so active in the first place.

So around day three of the pull back from everything, I was making my bed, and asking myself why I use activity as validation, why I assign different levels of importance to different tasks, more or less, depending on how right or upright those tasks make me feel (more about that in another post).

I figured: Well, I need to be right because you only get one shot at life, and life is short. I’m finishing my twenties, and I want to be sure I’m headed into the rest of life lined up the right way. Is it worth volunteering my life away? What about a career? What if God gave me gifts to be used, and I just spend my time shut up in my home? What if I pursue a career, and I miss out on my family? What if I get it wrong?

Well, what if I get it wrong?

Well, if I get it wrong, then what will it have all been for? What if it’s all for nothing? That’s what I’m really afraid of.

And I realized that I am often afraid of wholeheartedly jumping in anywhere, or risking reputation, or speaking up about something that’s wrong because, if I’m wrong, then what I’m doing and sweating over doesn’t matter. I’ve seen too many people burn themselves out, running around to please people and operate within systems whose authority just didn’t matter at all, and I think that at the basis of so much of my inaction and indecisiveness is this gut fear that I’ll get to the end of my life, and it will have been a lot of exertion, but little meaning.

So my dive into “why” got deep fast. But I was okay with that, that was what I was doing this for in the first place, and as I worked out these thoughts, and journaled, prayed, read, and meditated, I came to the place to which I knew to return. To the Gospel. And the following is all a basically unedited pull from my journal that morning I started thinking about meaning and significance. I do take some imaginative license in rehearsing the beats of the Gospel, but I hope that it encourages you to read it as it did me to write it.

——————————————————————-

What aspect of His work captures my attention today?

The tomb.

Was going through the cycle. It felt wooden: Jesus died, was buried, was raised again. I stopped. Something caught my attention. I’d never noticed it, really.

Was buried…

Put away. Dealt with. Out of sight and, as the rulers of the Jews and the Romans hoped, out of the people’s minds. We bury people, and they fade into oblivion. We leave legacies so we won’t be forgotten, to have our significance reach beyond the grave. We are intentional about keeping the memories of loved ones alive. So the grave buries our physical bodies, but with them, our “immediate importance.”

So when Jesus was buried, He took on yet another form of insignificance.

The insignificance I dread, which dread fuels my striving, and only serves to amplify the belief that failures of the past cripple me. They don’t. Because Jesus was buried, I won’t be.

We can’t afford to rush through this day too quickly, to Sunday. We must know Friday and Saturday.

What was Jesus doing Friday and Saturday? He was dying. He was in the grave.

He was going to the gates of Hades to stare Satan in the eye and take from him, the keys of death. In other words, He wasn’t simply becoming a Nothing.

Yes, it was literally hell, the kind of hell I fear. But that insignificance wasn’t just insignificance, but the final battle that determined my eternal destination, and you might say, my true significance.

I picture that scene…Jesus, between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning…the beautiful, wearied soul of God-Man approaching the final challenge.

He’s endured Incarnation, the need to grow, subjection to human authority, when how many times must He have truly known better? He’s embraced the humility of John’s baptism of repentance. He’s marveled at unbelief, put up with every fatigue three straight years of intensive ministry had to offer, withstood temptation in the desert. He’s kept His hands open and His heart pure in Gethsemane, when the Father turned face and heart away from the only perfect human being in history, and at His deepest hour of need. He’s been flogged, nearly to the point of death. He’s endured the cross and the mocking. And remained sinless.

And then, buried. What unseen horrors, demonic forces, must have been dancing around His cross at 3 pm that Friday? The gravest moment in history. An earthquake. A darkness.

And even though the veil in the temple split in two, still, no one understood. Not one person, even among the closest of His friends He’d made along the way, who’d traveled, marveled, wept, lived, ate with Him, not even one of them understood at all. Jesus is utterly misunderstood, and seemingly defeated.

And in this state, they buried Him.

Do I feel invalidated? Do I feel it’s all been for nothing?

Do I feel the things of the past have messed up chances for future meaning?

Do I feel too timid to venture into the unknown for fear that I’ll make a mistake so damning that God can’t redeem it?

Do I ever feel belittled, mocked, beaten down emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?

Do I feel God doesn’t care? That I say, “Give me something else!”, and He’s silent? Do I dare to say, “You don’t care!” I have said, “This feels unfair. Why would you leave me like this?”

Do I ever start to believe, if only subconsciously, the lie that this is what Life is….striving for significance…and then, burial?

Going back to that moment in Redemptive History, I see this as the close of Act Two, the darkness before dawn. The hero is buried.

He descends into hell, worn, beaten, rejected, a Man of Sorrows, both unrecognized, and  unrecognizable as either God or, indeed, even as a man.

Satan sneers, “Are You really the Son of God?” His age-old refrain. The one thing He loves to ask, “Are you really?” He draws himself up, ready to play the game again. He monologues,

“God wouldn’t fail.

God wouldn’t die.

God’s Son rejected—what? Can You be Him?

God’s Son, human?

God’s Son, dead?

God’s Son, forgotten?

God’s Son, buried?

I told You! I offered, ‘If You’re the Son of God, obey me.’ I wanted to see You prove Yourself, and You didn’t. You just couldn’t do it, poor Jesus. And poor followers of Jesus. Who now is He? So who now are they, but every bit as insignificant as their Master? Duped, wrong, and buried.”

But Jesus came to end all of this. And all the fires of hell are nothing to the fire in His eyes as Satan laughs at Him, and asks one more time, “Can this sorry and forgotten One in front of me really be the Son of God?”

And comes the reply,

“I am.”

I am. Because, even in burial, in oblivion, in hell, He is. And because Jesus knows Who He is, the final test is over.

I am. Because Jesus knew that by the very acts of death and descending into hell, He retained the power to control the purpose of His errand. And so, He didn’t go to hell to take up residence. And as Satan opened the gates to take Him in, Jesus answered, “I am”, and snatched the keys of death from the devil, and every table turned.

Because He did not ever fight for recognition, but only whispered, “I am”, in that, the last test, He overcame.

And on Sunday morning, the life returned to His body. And the nail pierced hands hold the keys of hell still.

And now, all that Satan can do, whether through the mouths of others, or my own faithless heart, is ask me, “Are you really_____________?” But he can’t change who I am. And he can’t lock me in.

Of course, if I believe the lies, they can cripple. They can make me not live as I am capable of living. But their undoing is in the fact that they are lies. Yes, the devil can still lie, but it’s the only thing he can do. But I can take power from those lies by not believing them. Because Jesus, by His insignificance, made them untrue.

So to myself:

Do not let those lies keep me sitting, not standing. Don’t be a crippled, living soul, with a beating heart, lying down, for no reason, in a grave.

Get up and live. Friday and Saturday are over and done, and I can live every day as Sunday.


 

Applications of those lessons to follow at some point. But for now, I’m enjoying my husband’s return, and our family’s time of rest. Happy Easter.

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“Who”–Lyra, the Nighttime Cleaning Fairy (Army Spouse Cleaning House, Installment Four)

A couple of weeks ago, I started off to answer some “who”, “what”, “where” kinds of questions. It’s sort of more of a journalism thing, but I like it for a blog too. So this evening, I am thinking about “Who.”

First, some early thoughts on “Who” from January:

When I first started this little series, I was calling it “Deployed Spouse Cleaning House”, which was technically a misnomer because my husband is, of course, the deployed one. I don’t know if you other military spouses out there have experienced this, but occasionally I’ll hear “deployed spouse” used as kind of a slang shorthand for the “left at home spouse” (because who wants to be called that?!). It’s an odd phenomenon because we know it’s not what it really means, but it just sort of works. It’s usually used to distinguished those of us with soldiers deployed, from those of us with soldiers at home. At any rate, it’s still a little confusing, so I decided to change the name of the series to “Army Spouse Cleaning House.”

I went through a few different ideas before I got there, and it’s not brilliant, but it is more specific than “Mil Spouse Cleaning House” and less Mousketootle than “House of Spouse”. As I cycled through names, I realized what I really didn’t love was the word “spouse.” Not because I don’t like being a spouse, but because of how that word tends to hit me in a military context.

Why do we use the word, “spouse” so much in the military? There’s actually a very good (though sometimes not immediately apparent) reason.

But at first, it sounds so impersonal, so lesser than. “Meet Andrew and his spouse.” “Deployment checklist: pack pro-gear, make a plan for the POV, take care of the spouse, buy boots.” It’s sterile, almost like I could have been issued. It defines me by my relationship to my husband. How sexist, right?

Actually, no. Actually, “spouse” is the opposite of sexist.

The reason is…while everyone who is married to a soldier is, indeed, a spouse, not everyone married to a soldier is a wife.

In other words, we say “spouse” to intentionally not assume.

And here’s the hook for me. If even this giant machine called the US Army, which defines so much of my life, doesn’t assume anything about me—not even the most basic things, like my gender—why do I assume that “spouse” has to mean that I’m just “the one at home?” Why do I assume “spouse” means “no life goals”, “primary parent”, “underachiever”, “appendage?”

So I’ve decided, for me, “spouse” isn’t meant to define, so much as to describe. And as I roll through the next leg of deployment, it’s good to remember that “spouse” is quite open-ended. It can mean something totally different for me than it does for someone else, and will. I’m still working through it all myself. I’ll get deeper on that another time, because I think identity is a huge deal for all of us, but especially those of us who are military spouses. But for now, that’s just some food for thought before moving on to other thngs.

And meanwhile, I’m enjoying some actual food for my body as I prepare to turn into one of the many Who’s I’m playing this winter. I’m bracing myself for the night with some freezer waffles, which lacked the dinosaur-shaped freezer chicken nuggets that would have made for a real treat. Incidentally, the last time I had chicken and waffles, it was served to me with lavender honey and a martini, so don’t waste too much of your life feeling sorry for me. I try to balance freezer waffles kind of nights with martini nights as best I can. At any rate, I digress. I want you to meet my Who for the night. She is a house-cleaning fairy, called Lyra.

Lyra is blue and sparkly. She comes only at night, and only if the children all go to bed on time and without a fuss. Lyra tidies up. Sometimes she leaves fairy dust (aka cheap glitter) here and there, if she’s feeling especially gracious. If the children are naughty, Lyra goes and cleans someone else’s house while Mommy usually crashes…early. Lyra runs on coffee, salty snacks, and the energy she absorbs from moonbeams or something.

Now, at this point, some of you are judging me for having come up with a mythical being who rewards good behavior in the night, and for occasionally using said character to basically bribe my kids to go to bed. But let me ask you…do your kids believe in Santa?  Okay then. Yes, someday, they’ll realize I’m Lyra (I’m pretty sure they’re already on to me), and I think at that point they’ll just be like, “Whoa, Mom! You’ve been doing all these chores for us! You’re the best!” That’s what I’m banking on at least. Like, I’m pretty sure that, in the end, the person who is going to remain the most disappointed that magic cleaning fairies don’t exist…will be me.

So anyway, the tricky thing about Lyra is this. When I’ve brought up the idea of Lyra, I obviously have to follow through. And tonight, I have some big plans for her. As in, I’d love for it to look like a different place in here before my own bedtime. It’s not going to happen. However, I am sharing this with you so that I can’t cop-out from the small things I can do tonight (see previous post on accepting rough edges). I’m seeking accountability from other Who’s, since my motivation after 4 pm is usually just gone.

So earlier today, I was walking around, just kind of wondering where to start. And some nights, your girl Lyra just has to start with what’s in front of her and go from there. Motivation that goes beyond the spur of the moment is a tough thing to come by, more rare some days, than fairy dust. But now, as I consider how much my little Who’s mean to me, and how much they love the thought that maybe a fairy will leave some sparkle dust, and will maybe, just maybe, help them with some chores, motivation rises. Because those Who’s are so much my heart, I think I can bring a little fairy to life this evening, and see if she can create something that gives the kids an appreciation for order.

You see, the master plan is that Lyra inspires them to keep their own things tidied by giving a little taste of what it’s like to wake up to a clean room. Lyra is supposed to be a lesson. An example. And yes, it does still feel a little ridiculous that I do this every so often. But the truth is, a lot of things about military life can feel ridiculous, not the least of which are some of the things we expect of our Who’s who are Army kids. We spend a lot of time helping them to essentially, “just deal with it” (though we’d never actually say it that way). Sometimes, they need a break, some fun and encouragement. A fairy who might take the pressure off once in a blue moon.

But also, I want them to know that, though nothing is ever certain in the Army, some promises, like Mom and Dad will always love you, and there will be some glitter by your bed in the morning, can be trusted.

So to help them feel like their lives are defined by more than just being “Army brats”, just like mine is more than being an Army spouse, I will be Lyra tonight. And, in turn, they’ll learn that sometimes, Mom will ask them to do something hard, like go to bed on time, or send Dad off yet again, but that it’ll be okay. I want them to know that some things in life are bigger than the Army. I want them to know that a lot of things can always be counted on. All it takes is faith and trust…

…and for tonight, yep, a little pixie dust.

Accept Rough Edges, Army Spouse Cleaning House, Installment Three

I think government shut down has happened in my house. Sometimes, when you’re pulled in too many opposite directions, you forget how to reconcile your wants, come up with a solution, and get on with it. Then disaster follows and production stops. Obviously, this is an oversimplification of what’s going on in our country, but I think the general principle is true. With too much polarization and demands from all sides come zero results for any side.

Now, nothing actually traumatic has happened within our four walls. But I’m just sensing that the gears are grinding a little too much with too little results. I tend to have such high expectations of myself for how my goals are going to be reached, the slow, steady, perfect way, that I just usually don’t even start, or I don’t get very far if I do. Because if it can’t be done my (perfect) way, then it’s not going to get done at all.

Example: I plan to declutter the house. So I spend a few days going through books. I’ve sold some downtown, I’ve given some away. I’ve gone onto decluttr.com and tallied up what I would get from shipping out a box or two. Then I put the rest in a pile for donation.

The pile for donation is where good decluttering intentions go to die. I have so many piles of clothes, books, dishes, toys, that I want to donate, but what if I could clean a quarter of that stuff up and consign it? What if I have a friend who could use it?

What if I could do this perfectly?

But then, I get sick, my car dies, we get invited somewhere, I get tired. And the books and clothes sit and sit and sit.

Meanwhile, I have other goals too. I’m trying to take better care of myself, which means exercising more. I have a workout mapped out for five days of every week for the next twelve weeks. I do it occasionally, and feel great. And then “stuff” happens, my kids get up too early, I crash too early, whatever, and it goes right out the window. I have ten minutes here or there, but if I can’t do it perfectly, what’s the point? Or so I think.

And where are my weights amid all these piles of books and clothes I want to donate?

And now I’m not decluttering or excising because if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t do it at all. So I sit and sit and sit. Shutdown.

I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve come down to something kind of simple.

I do a lot of things. That’s how I’ve always been, and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. It’s just sort of a part of my personality. Variety in life (and government) is, generally speaking, a good thing. But all aspects of life, like all political parties, must show some respect and know how to make concessions for others.

The thing is, you can’t really say you’re for variety of achievement if what you’re really for is the absolute realization and perfection of your life goals. It’s just not possible. That’s just mathematics.

So obviously, every analogy falls apart somewhere, and pulling a home out of a sludge is much easier than pulling a country out. So as I read the news, and snark to my husband about how maybe we should stop congress’ pay since our politicians are actually the ones who can’t seem to do their jobs (I still maybe think that a little bit…), I should actually just start with myself.

I should start with one, simple principle, three words that have been rattling around in my brain all week. I’m not really sure why, but it’s just what’s stuck in my head and spurred me to action, so it will be my mantra for the time being.

Accept rough edges.

 

Accept mis-strokes rather than a blank canvas, wrong notes rather than a dusty instrument, spilled food rather than a lonely table. All of those things. No one cares about the mistakes more than me. Most people don’t even see them. And maybe I’ll even learn something valuable by not having everything my own, perfect way.

If you were to walk through my house right now, you certainly wouldn’t see perfection. You’d see shut down piles of donation items, a shut down meal plan, and shut down exercise gear. No, not crisis, but not really production either. So it’s time to accept the inevitable rough edges and just create anyway.

That’s something that’s hard for me to do. It’s a theme of a lot of these posts, and sorry if it’s becoming a worn theme. Perfectionism isn’t an easy monster to fight, but he does become easier over time. I just have to keep telling myself that accepting rough edges isn’t giving up, it’s getting on. It is, in fact, decluttering my decluttering method, and something about that makes me smile. There’s just something kind of funny about it.

And, as everyone knows, there’s no better way to confuse and defeat a monster than by laughing at him. And it just gives me hope that maybe this venture is having some better result than a clean house. So off I go.

“A To Do List With Diversions” or “Really, I Just Don’t Want To Call ECHO.” Army Spouse Cleaning House, Installment Two

They say that with any written work, it’s important to know your who, what, when, where, how, why. More on that later.

So…answering the WHAT just for today, I set out to make a to do list. But I get distracted when I make to do lists, and sometimes, it feels like everything connects too much, and  instead of giving me direction, making a list just ends up making my whole day feel like a spinning bat race for my mind to endure. Swirl up all my thoughts as fast as possible, and then go, go, go!! Accomplish it all!!!! Not always, but today, kind of.

I don’t want to do it that way today. Instead, I’ll probably just deal with the most urgent things that pop up, and ditch the spinning bat race for whack-a-mole, which is not necessarily any less violent or chaotic, by the way, but it’s easier to feel good about myself at the end of the day. We’ll see how much of this “list” I can whack today. This is basically the list and the thoughts and memories that distracted me from making the rest of it.

WHAT:

A TO DO LIST WITH DIVERSIONS

1. Back to teaching today–tidy up.
2. Oh, what? My metronome needs a new battery.

Fun story about my metronome that I had to stop and laugh about and wonder how I’d already forgotten: The first week of Christmas break, it went off at 1 a.m., and I carried a large knife into my music room, expecting a music-loving intruder to be…stealing my metronome? Or to confront a ghost maybe. I don’t actually remember what I expected. My thoughts were something along the lines of,

“Why is everyone awake? What is that?! It’s my metronome! It’s set to andante… I need a weapon!”

I knew the battery was going, but really, in the middle of the night? Great timing, metronome (cheap-shot pun fully intended). Anyway, it was scary. Where’s my husband when I need him? And why didn’t I replace the battery before today, darn it?
3. I should go to the store.

Oh, man, I was gonna go to the store tomorrow. Scratch that. Wait, I’ll have all the kids with me tomorrow. I just have the boys today.

3 (again). I should go to the store today… for the motherload.

No. Safeway gives a 10% military discount the first Saturday of every month (you’re welcome if you didn’t know). I should definitely go tomorrow. Really, I think the 10% off is a consolation prize to those who brave Safeway of Fountain on a Saturday with all of their kids. Anyway, I’ll go tomorrow, it’s worth it. It’ll take planning though…

But batteries.

4. Go to the store for D’s today, and plan the motherload trip for tomorrow…yay…last time we did the motherload trip, I was so frazzled at the end that I accidentally shut my butt in the sliding door as I loaded the kids up. It hurt. Badly.

But…while all of this is good, none of it is the thing I’m really avoiding.
There’s always…the BIG TASK. The one I’m dreading, really for no good reason, and therefore, the one I should probably prioritize. I procrastinate on this one, and I’m gonna have to do some deep thinking to figure out why.

5. Calling ECHO.

Oh, ECHO, those people who open a lot of doors for your special needs family life in the military after a mystical paperwork-signing and a small blood sacrifice are performed. This is the one that should be first because I really, really, really don’t want to call them. It’s one of those things where they said, “In order to get ABA therapy, you need to first make an appointment with Dr. X.” I go to make an appointment with Dr. X to find out that I need a referral first from Dr. Y. Dr. Y says, “I’d love to help you out, but when I try to put the referral in, I’m being blocked by ECHO. They say you’re not qualified to get this appointment.” Maybe I’m getting a little too honest, but “you’re not qualified for this appointment” (the appointment that’s supposed to lead to all the qualifications) was exactly and literally all the explanation I got. So. Grr. We’ll get there. There’s clearly something that I’m missing, or that ECHO is missing. Probably both. I’ll keep ya posted. Meanwhile, my kid would really benefit from ABA therapy, you know?

And, okay, in real time, my son is eating a lot of cottage cheese right out of the container, in front of “Goldie and Bear”, so I should probably stop him or he’s gonna have a bad day if you know what I’m saying…

So…for starters, metronome, ECHO, maybe the store, cleaning, and to get all meta on you…posting to the blog…and getting Josh out of cottage cheese.

Gonna be a whack-a-mole day. Here goes.

Army Spouse Cleaning House, a written documentary, Installment 1

Blasted some dry shampoo into my hair, got my husband’s shirt on, and his coffee thermos in my hand. Last grocery trip of Christmas break with all the kids is about to happen, which leads me to announce:
I’ve set some high/possibly unrealistic goals for myself to reach before deployment is over. Clean the whole house, purge the whole house, paint the whole house, eat healthy, exercise 5x a week, be on time, keep the car cleaner, do the jobs deployed husband usually does around the house, maintain my music studio, finish creative projects I’ve started, like crocheting a 50-piece angry birds game, finishing a screenplay, writing a cookbook, and finishing an acrylic 2-canvas interpretation of “Winkyn, Blinkyn, and Nod” (not sure I spelled that right). I also need to make sure all of our special needs kid’s documents are in order before we move (curse the bureaucracy), and I need to get her into still more therapies than she’s already in. I may throw a yard sale in there as the cherry on top. Also, my children are 1, 3, 5, and 6. Ridiculous, right?
Yeah, right. I’m embarrassed even to have my own eyes look at that list. Writing it out reveals just how ridiculous it is. So as I try to prioritize, I’m thinking of doing a blog series, maybe videos documenting the hilarity and lesson-learning I’m experiencing while doing this, and to spark discussion around all the questions I’m asking myself, ranging from, “Why do we women/moms put so much pressure on ourselves?” to, “Would it be wise to store my deodorant in the pantry, so I can De-O for the B.O. while I make oatmeal on school mornings?”, to “Is minimalism a true virtue, or a fad?” Stuff like that. I want to take a good hard look at my philosophy of time. I want to answer the “How do you do it all” question with a big, fat, “I DON’T!!!!”, and inspire others to be okay to admit the same. I’d like to ask us all to inquire what the “it all” in “how do you do it all” even means. We put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to be great at everything, to be well-rounded, to never give up on a project, and, as women especially, to have the perfect meals provided for our families, the perfect bodies, and the perfect, fulfilling, but flexible career paths.
My hypothesis is that this is not possible, and that we’re looking for value in all the wrong places. I’d like to make myself a test-case. And in that way, this is a confession. Stay tuned.

I’m Going to Portland…As In, Right Now

So. I wrote the following really fast, and I’m not really editing it like I usually do. It’s casual week. It’s “take deep breffs” (as my daughter would say) week. It’s revel in not being a perfectionist week. Because…

Every time I take one of those online quizzes that asks which city my soul or whatever really belongs in, I get the same answer: Portland. (Pauses to retake the quiz because it’s been a couple years—no really, I did—Portland again.) So guess what I’m doing right now? I’m sitting in the concourse at the airport, waiting for my flight out to Portland.

Because my family is amazing, they’re sending me for some RnR before what is going to be a challenging February. I’m so excited. With four little kids, I’m really not much of a solo traveler. As I was buying my ticket, self-doubt was high. “I shouldn’t do this. This is stupid. This is really stupid. This is just way too indulgent. I don’t need this.”

Fortunately, I have an awesome sister and husband, who just kept telling me to shut up and keep clicking (they’re gems).

So here I am, already loving the people-watching, the writing, and the unwinding of my brain. I have one of those personalities, or brains, or something, that just has to keep going, going, going!!!!

It’s really nice to go away, just so I can stop all the going.

Dropping everything (don’t worry, I left my kids in some of the most capable hands out there), and getting on a plane to what I have a feeling is going to be the perfect city, is something way out of my comfort zone. It’s not because I don’t like to travel, but because I usually don’t think of myself as other than Housewife and 24-hour-on-call Mommy. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a mom and caring for our home, and not having the strain of an outside job. I love that our family is that job, it’s a gift that my life can be this. It’s just I am so entrenched in this life, it feels funny to put myself into any other context.

But I think it’s going to be healthy to respond to different circumstances, shake up my surroundings, and be around a different type of energy than I’m used to. I think it will be a little like taking an ice-bath, except that I’m not shocking myself with intensity, but with a lack thereof.

It’s already feeling like the gift it is to pray, sit, and think about my life, ask what I should give myself to in the coming years. Part of my goal for this time is to get some vision for myself. I have a lot of passions, interests, things I could see pursuing in my future, as my kids grow. I can’t give myself to anything just yet, and that’s fine. But when I am free to do things other than be a mama, I feel a little haphazard, I just kind of create random stuff without much purpose. Write a little here, play some music, maybe grow something…? To an extent, I like having lots of interests. It makes me feel like maybe I’m well-rounded or something like that. But, although I consider myself a creative person, I do have a really practical side. I do need direction and purpose.

Currently, my direction is northwest. I’m good with that much for now. I’ll keep you posted on the rest.

Ellie Has Autism, and i’m just her mom

Last week, I dropped my daughter off at physical and occupational therapy as always. Her first therapist of the afternoon met me at the front door saying that we needed to take Ellie down the hallway through the back entrance to the physical therapy room instead of bringing her through the lobby. There was a teenaged boy being dragged by multiple therapists back into the hallway for his own session, and he was putting up a loud and violent fight. I could see and hear it from where I stood with Ellie. I’ve never heard a person make some of the noises I could hear that boy making, and I say that without any laughter in my words whatsoever. He was going back and forth between nearly barking, and then ear-splitting screeching, and it was truly heartbreaking. I was so thankful that my easily-frightened Ellie seemed, for the most part, oblivious.

I’ve developed a soft spot for the lobby at the clinic where my daughter receives all her weekly therapies. There’s a unique camaraderie between us parents of special needs kids. This past week, when I heard and saw such a big boy having such a hard time, was the deepest I’ve felt it. I felt his mom’s frustration, exhaustion, and embarrassment because I’ve been there before. I’ve mothered that boy in my own way, in public, and in private for five and a half years. I know that mom’s pain.

I also know her good moments. The relief of sending your child back for a few hours a week with someone who really gets her, who doesn’t see a puzzle, but a person in your child, I’ve felt that. I’ve cried tears of joy in the car, driving across town after a better IEP meeting than I could have ever hoped for, and I know the parents in the lobby have had moments of overwhelming happiness like that too. We’ve known and felt things for our kids that they couldn’t for themselves, and just as strongly, we’ve known and felt the hard things with our kids when they could. And when I walk into the clinic, I always feel like we’re all in it together.

But I didn’t used to be one of the parents in the clinic who felt that. I used to not even want to feel that way. Before the therapy started, and in the early days, I knew that if I felt camaraderie with special needs parents, that would make me a special needs parent. That would mean I’d have to come to terms with having a special needs child. And for a long time, that was the last thing I wanted. So many times I had to fight the urge not to call a doctor back or fill out paperwork, because it meant that there might be something “wrong” with my child, and that I’d have to act accordingly. Somehow, I kept dialing the numbers and filling out the forms. But it was seriously hard (and I know there are parents out there feeling this now, and I want them to feel the camaraderie in that too, before the therapies even start, the brotherhood and sisterhood of parents who don’t know what’s wrong with their children, and are afraid to find out because of how it will make them feel to have an “officially” different child).

I used to feel guilty over Ellie’s “issues.” I used to feel guilty because, for five years, we didn’t know their cause. I knew it was irrational, that her difficulties were unique, and not my fault. But emotions aren’t rational, and having a child who doesn’t conform can make a parent feel all sorts of things that don’t make sense. I used to feel so awkward every time we met a new set of friends, and I had to explain that she has “delays”, but that we didn’t know what was wrong with her. I have felt angry when a well-intentioned lady said to me, “Oh, she’s really just shy.” I’ve felt embarrassed when some also well-intentioned elderly people told me that my daughter’s behavior was inappropriate, that if they were perverts, Ellie would be the one to catch their attention. Everything in me just wanted to say, “She’s autistic”, and be done with it, but I couldn’t because we didn’t know for sure, and I couldn’t stand saying, “Well, yeah, she’s delayed, that’s why she’s mooning everyone” one more time, so I just said, “Oh. Thank you.”

Feelings and moments like those made it hard for me to want to have a life of being one of the special needs parents. But one night a few months ago, when my guilt complex was at its strongest, when it was moving from being mostly subconscious, to being loud and clear, I had an epiphany:

Being her parent is just that, being a Mom. And I’d been trying to be her Messiah. Be Mom, not Messiah. Mom doesn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t count the number of times since that night I’ve replayed versions of that mantra in my head. The peace it brings me is something I struggle to put into words. When I’ve tried to be Ellie’s Messiah, I’ve shamed myself, often obliviously, for not having calls made, for missing appointments, for people we’ve offended, and for the condition itself.

I’ve not been able to feel the peace and the joy when things have gone well, because if I was Messiah, and not Mom, then what’s to be thankful for? I navigated that sticky social situation myself, I read that scholarly article about sleep habits for special kids myself, and I painted the room, arranged the furniture, and bought the necessary gadgets myself. Parent-Messiahs can’t ever be really at rest or really grateful. The best parent-Messiahs can ever be, is accomplished. Good for us.

But when I let Jesus be Messiah, and myself be Mom, when I get phone calls from my daughter’s school because she’s still hitting the same boy, or because she has soiled even all the extra pairs of clothes I sent with her for the day and I need to bring a third outfit, I’m not projecting anything onto the school psychiatrist or the teachers, and I realize they’re not actually judging me or my daughter at all. Being Mom removes all need for a hierarchy, so I can take a deep breath and ask Ellie’s therapists how their lives are going, because I know we could be friends. When I let Jesus be Messiah and myself be Mom, I’m just along for the ride, and maybe I’ve been given to Ellie as much as she’s been given to me, and it’s about more than my life.

When I finally sorted out who was who, that surprise, surprise, I’m not God, I was perfectly positioned to hear the word “Autism” this Fall. The word “Autism” was actually a relief, because it was code for “help”, “therapy”, “growth”, “financial assistance”, “classroom provisions”, and not code for “shame”, “hardship”, “ childhood friendlessness.” I know there are those who don’t feel this way, and I don’t take your pain lightly (see above), but for me, as I think about Ellie’s life, and my life with her, I don’t see the fact that she’s on the Spectrum as a sentence. I see Autism right now as a different life, not a worse life, and the diagnosis was like a key to unlocking all the help. You need that little word on a piece of paper, written by just the right person (hellish process though it is to obtain it), and then help springs up like it never would have otherwise. And I can only see it that way because I’m learning, slowly, to be Mom and not Messiah.

So a few months ago, I went into the clinic as always. I dropped Ellie off and went for my hour and a half of sanity (my own sort of therapy). As I walked back out through the hallway, I saw a young soldier, a dad, who was in a dead sleep, underneath a bench. His pillow was a mess of papers, which he had apparently planned to spend those golden, quiet moments to himself reading. But his resolve had broken, and he slept. And as I walked by, he stirred a little, and I smiled to myself because I got that moment. I was so familiar with it, and I could enjoy the camaraderie because we’re not Messiahs, we’re moms and dads.

Turing the corner, I saw another dad, walking in circles with his son, over and over, tracing the same steps, a ritual of calming, of preparation for the appointment, you could tell. You could feel it was that thing they did, probably hundreds of times a week, that weird thing that they found that worked, and was their saving grace. The boy liked to walk in circles, so they walked in circles, simple, illogical, and perfect. I caught the dad’s eye, and he gave me a look of, “Yep, you have these weird little things you do too. Yep, you know what I’m doing, and you know it’s the best I can do. You’d be doing the same.” Because I totally would and do. And that moment of camaraderie was grace for me and grace for that dad, because we’re only parents, and in those moments in the hallway too, it was so apparent that we weren’t the Messiahs, just the moms and dads.

And that, in a way, is therapy for therapy-parents. I wish I had a card that said, “Mom felt the camaraderie three times in a row. That’s a milestone passed.” “Fifty percent of the time, Mom remembered who she is, and who she’s not. That’s getting close to passing”, and I would get the reward at the end of the session. I get the reward of camaraderie, of taking deeper breaths, of thankfulness, and of just being along for the ride. Because I’m not Messiah. I’m not Messiah in the slightest. I’m just Mom.