I’ve been grieving some losses lately. The other day on my jog, they seemed to bottleneck inside, trickling out my eyes as my feet kept pounding, step after step. I’m not sure what God’s doing, but as I described in the last post, grief seemed… appropriate.
Though God’s given me glimpses of hope I can’t ignore–it also seems to deny Him access to all of me when I’m ignoring I feel anything, and jumping right to “It’ll be okay.”
It was one night several years ago when a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room following dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.
Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it–and then, also out of obedience, backed out.
My dad used to joke about being a “minority in a sorority”. It was fairly legit: We were four girls, plus my mom—and even the dog was a girl.
Imagine my (joyful) alarm when the sonogram of my first child revealed that I was about to plunge into the world of testosterone, sweat, dirt, and Nerf weapons (the latter of which I have now lost count). In fact three of my four kiddos are boys.
So when my boys were still quite young and I had a term paper assigned for a class, I chose the topic of moms raising sons—you know, because I was, oh, a bit overwhelmed what with all the jumping off things, unprovoked aggression, and mysterious hygiene habits. Or lack thereof.
I learned a lot as I unearthed studies from researchers like Michael Gurian and others who have uncovered remarkable biological information about how boys take in the world. My goal is not to add fabric softener to my boys’ rough-and-tumble existence (though stain remover is fairly essential). Instead, I’ve become riveted by the plans God has for their courage, leadership, directness, and masculinity.
When you felt like you were finally surfacing from burnout–or as I called it, tired-mad, I might tell you what I found out. That sometimes burnout is simply burnout, because life is hard. And even though God never gives us more than He’ll give us strength to handle (He says so here and here), it still can feel like a rightful scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, ta-da-I-survived type thing. (Whether it’s godly or not to be burned out is another post for another time, perhaps. But pretending it’s not there doesn’t really help.)
Questions that may help as you process burnout
How have my responsibilities challenged me? How have they changed me?
What activities “give me life” after I’ve helped someone?
Who do I feel comfortable debriefing with?
What questions do I find myself asking—and what lies am I tempted to believe (“I’m the only one who can help.” “I can’t afford to rest.” “Jesus wouldn’t say no here”)—when I am burdened by helping someone?
In what Scriptures do I find hope and comfort when I am helping someone? (I like Isaiah 55:1-3.)
(One of my favorites:) What would a compassionate friend say to me about this? (I often afford more compassion to others than I do to myself.)
What sense of purpose and meaning do I find in my work? What do I love about what I do?
What do I do when I am not handling stress well? What does the “stressed” version of me look like?
What methods, people, and practices have helped me in the past?
What do I think God thinks about my work?
What questions do I have for God because of my work?
And though there are few exhaustions like young-mom exhaustion—I felt my own version of tired-mad that week. (Um. My family may have felt it, too.) One of my favorite takeaways from the movie Home were those hybrid-emotions, like sad-mad.Anger is a secondary emotion anyway, right? We feel angry usually because we were first hurt; afraid; grieved. Depleted, taken for granted; so very tired. So I have to plunge my fingers into my anger, exploring a bit.
Okay, moms: Who’s the best mom you know? And what makes her, y’know, stellar?
I wonder what the highest standard for motherhood is in your group of friends. Is it clear where you should be sending your kids to school, or what educational concepts they should have mastered? Whether you should vaccinate? Whether you use essential oils or antibiotics? Which programs your kids are enrolled in, how your daughter’s room is decorated, or what cute ideas you found on Pinterest for her birthday party?
I’ve only been back in the States for a month, so maybe I’m picking up on the wrong vibes. But—I am picking up on some significant pressure that we both give and receive from each other as mommas. Maybe you’re insecure like I was as a young mom, and sometimes still am. So much is imploding in front of you, despite your utter exhaustion. I admit to a wee bit of wicked consolation when another friend has a pile of dirty dishes that’s kind of erupted all over the rest of the kitchen, or when her kid also has a head-turning meltdown in the housewares aisle.
One of the sadder effects of my time back in the United States is my subtle and instantaneous body-consciousness. (This is not a cultural diatribe; I’ve got body issues.) Unpacking my jeans in the cheap hotel we checked into after flying in, I remarked to my husband, “Why is it that I just feel like I’ve gained 25 pounds?”
He shrugged. “Maybe because it’s so easy to gain 25 pounds while we’re here?”
Later I realized—nope. It’s because instantly—I must sheepishly admit image rises in priority in my mind. Yes, I am inundated with marketing, much containing women both airbrushed and well-paid to look both stunning and underweight. But, as I was recently reminded by my sister’s post, even the time to focus on image, or to work out, is a sign of all the excess I enjoy. Which means that in Africa, I have been fasting a bit from this fixation on modern instruction in beauty. It also means that the geometric shapes of my body are a little more appreciated.
Remember the ’99 Julia Roberts flick, Runaway Bride?
Roberts’ character has a bad reputation for landing at the altar and, well, taking off. (Spoiler alert, here–) Turns out she’s been a chameleon of sorts, being “supportive” to the point of wholly adopting her not-so-future mate’s preferences, hobbies, and lifestyle: She likes her eggs the same way. She dons a large (fake) tattoo. She prepares to climb Everest for one of her (not-gonna-happen) honeymoons.
The fiancés are left clueless and bewildered as she turns from each of them, minutes from matrimony. I adored her! And yet, apparently none understood how little they’d actually sought out her soul, or cherished her uniqueness apart from what she contributed to their own interests.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.