Every now and then, living overseas, you get one of those pregnancy-worthy cravings (even if you’re a guy, apparently). For my husband, it was one of those drive-thru burgers and a fountain Coke. Ooh, and tortilla chips and salsa. For me, Greek yogurt with blueberries, then some edamame, with a Starbucks Frappuccino on the side (decaf, with whip). And really good cheese.
Thankfully, none of these were really nutritionally driven. Sometimes I think we’re just hungry for what our hankerings represent. For comfort; ease. Home.
When you’re a bit wobbly
Ever feel a little bit…tippable?
I felt this last week, curving through the aspens on the way to pick up my son. I felt strangely vulnerable–not in the powerless-to-change-my-circumstances sense I witnessed of many in poverty, but the kind borne of deep longing. Many, many things right now are going right for my family as we transition. But every now and then, something knocks me a bit. I find myself scrabbling for that sense of purpose in which I basked in Africa, purpose as tangible as my own hands. For the vast majority of the time, I find great meaning in what I’m doing now.
But that hollow sense left occasionally still unsteadies me.
The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.
Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.
Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.
Missed the first post? Grab it here.
I must have been seventeen. I still remember the room and where I was sitting in it. Sadly, I don’t remember the exact nature of the trauma that had come upon one of the youth group members, which was explained as we listened in relative silence that Sunday morning. I do know someone had died. But I remember the youth leader giving us advice about how to help those around them, and I specifically remember this: Here’s what not to say. Don’t tell them this was God’s will.
It was after lunch. We stood on the curb before we walked out to our respective cars. She’d divulged some hard stuff, stuff that could easily be embarrassing outside of the little table we’d shared inside. I was about to step off the sidewalk—and then I thought what it might feel like to be her.
I think I said something really astounding, like, Hey. Thanks. For just, y’know, sharing hard stuff. That is always a gift to me. (My husband taught me that part. He says it’s always a holy gift when someone shares their heart with you.) I know you could be tempted to feel kind of naked after all this. But thanks for just trusting me to keep stuff like that safe. I’m going to be praying with you.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I hope I’m that place for you when you need it.”
The power of shame continues to make my mind fizz. (Yours might, too: This post on shame in parenting has drawn more readers than any other post on this site, bar none.)
But now all those thoughts are bubbling over what shame might look like in a marriage; in our most intimate concentric circle of community. See, I know shame—this idea that I’m not worthy of connecting with someone—immediately leads me to cover up.
Take the typical fight with a spouse. First reaction is not typically, You’re so right. I’m snippy, and I have a profound case of PMS. It’s more along the lines of blame-shifting (Well, if you’d stop overreacting like some kind of hypersensitive Pomeranian). Denying (I didn’t say you were arrogant! I said you were cocky). Hiding (If I don’t say anything, it will look a lot like peace and taking the higher road).
Joking aside—this predilection to hiding means the manifestations of shame are endless. For me, it led to a profound insecurity (you can read how that affected our relationship); to people-pleasing ad nauseam, to the extent of a near eating disorder.
1. Acknowledge and explore it.
Why am I distracted? Am I having basic needs met, like sleep, food, exercise, and white space in my day to think? (Consider grabbing a snack or some yummy lotion to spread on your feet to make this time feel more like “you time” rather than checking a “should-do” box. Moms with young kids welded to thy knees–more ideas on that here. If you’re in need of a few minutes to settle your mind, set a timer on your phone and let your thoughts wander aimlessly. It’s…actually healthy.) What’s appealing about the rabbit of my brain’s bunny trails? Is it a fantasy? Is it feeding a need that I wish I had met right now-like comfort, security, approval, or power? Is there anything in my circumstances making me hunger for this…or is it just my natural security blanket? Commit the “holes” you’re feeling to God, and meditate on verses that direct you toward His complete comfort, security, acceptance, and power.
Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of this year of upheaval for my family has been my own understanding of who God is. It actually took me awhile to churn out this post for you, because, well, “I’m angry with God” should ideally have some kind of resolution at the end, right? I’ve learned people get unsettled when you tell them you’re feeling spiritually jaded or rattled.
I didn’t know what a turquoise-painted pumpkin was—until my nephew, the one with the chocolatey eyes and the wide grin, was allergic to peanuts. Now I know that a teal pumpkin outside a house on Halloween means they have non-food treats for kids with food allergies. When I was a young youth intern, it felt extreme of one mom to walk through the mission-trip bus and ask all the kids to surrender snacks with peanuts. Now, having known at least three moms who grappled with this life-or-death allergy on a daily basis—I get it.
My sister-in-law have had some heart-rending conversations over the last year about the fear she deals with around this allergy—which could take her son in ten minutes’ time. One wrong snack, one EpiPen too far away.
But my heart balled up with a single text last week from the same sister-in-law: Her daughter, who’s not yet one, had an anaphylactic reaction. …To eggs.
What do we do with the legitimate fear that seizes our hearts as parents?
I’m thinking out loud about this over on my friend Kristen’s site, WeareTHATFamily.com. I hope it lifts your head a bit today. Hop on over and check it out!
It’s very possible I’m showing my age with this. But remember One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer? He’s Jack, popular reporter and ladies’ man; she’s Melanie, overprotective single mother. Of course, they’re starting to fall in love. At one point:
Melanie: I-I realize it’s difficult what with, uh, Celia, Kristen, Elaine.
Jack (pauses, looks at her): I know your name, Mel.
This is what I like: I get that sometimes, you just want to know someone sees you. That you’re not just another name.
Maybe that’s why the words from Isaiah are whispering through my brain nearly once a day right now: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
I know your name, Janel.
Well—we did it.
We got on the plane.
After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatly quietly faithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.
Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.
I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?
Transition can feel…bereft.