My friend gazed at me through FaceTime, a kind smile on her face. “I just want to let you know that I just counted you saying the word ‘stupid’ six times when talking about yourself.”
She grinned. “I’m telling you this for your sanctification.” A little church-girl humor there. I thanked her.
I was surprised not that I did it, but maybe how frequently. I know that self-deprecation is part of the stressed version of myself; it’s one of my “tells”. And as I’ve written, my behavior has been more in that vulnerable state lately. Unmoored. Tippy.
I’ve gotten better about not making jokes about my body, at least. (Body issues of mine have a thick and convoluted history; read here and here.) To my sister a few years ago, I shook my head–made a comment about my hulking German shoulders making me look like a linebacker from the back. She countered me, all seriousness: “Would you ever talk that way around your daughter?” Honestly, I wouldn’t. (If you vocalize your body image issues around your kids, don’t miss this brief video–which yes, my sister passed on.) But I had to wonder: Was it a problem to say it openly to a friend?
All of this makes me wonder why I’m more comfortable with self-deprecation than talking about my strengths. Which, healthy as it is, still feels about as natural as swallowing a tennis shoe.
Her: So what do you do for a living?
Me: Oh. I’m a freelance writer.
Her, crease darkening her brow as she wonders, Is this a clever way of saying “virtually unemployed”? : Okay… So what does that look like?
Now. Compare this scenario to about six months ago.
Her: So what do you do for a living?
Me: Oh. I’m homeschooling my kids because we’re in Africa. On the side I teach some refugees.
Her, a glow widening her smile: Wow! That sounds amazing!
One of these, you see, is decidedly more sexy than the other. (Even with the “homeschooling” part thrown in.)
I get it. Most of us have a hierarchy of Job Coolness Factor. (I’ve got one, too. And Christians aren’t exempt.)
So last night happened.
Honestly, if I were a weather forecaster, I should have seen this perfect storm whirling my way, shooting out a few lightning bolts. It was brewing for two weeks as my husband and I sprinted to keep up with the pace of American life, which still overwhelms us. (Me to him: “I don’t know how people do this well.” Him: “I’m not sure they do.”) As much as we’d thinned out the “must do’s” from the “should do’s”, the calendar was still practically leaning over with the weight of all that ink. Mix in more work deadlines than I have fingers, and my brain was starting to resemble mashed potatoes.
I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”
‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.
That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.
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.
The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.
One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).
Never underestimate the impact of a healthy home.
It was a low moment in my parenting—so I’m still a little flabbergasted for the high point my then-four-year old made it.
I’d made a phone call to him as he stayed at his grandma’s for the day. I hated I even needed to make it. After shouting at him that morning, I’d done a fairly false, overall lame job of apologizing. I’d still been so stinkin’ angry—and my mind’s eye zoomed in on his own error. (That’s him at four years or so, on the right.) So I picked up my cell and attempted something more like Jesus.
What I will always remember was what he said in return.
“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”
Now I felt really bad for blowing my top.
My family and I are headed back from Africa, which twists my heart in all sorts of new ways. But with that, my kids will be attending school for the first time—American school. Any of you mamas out there imagine the ways that messes with a mama’s heart?
So many of my prayers are poured out like water over their adjustment. Over finding just one solid friend. Over teachers and my son’s learning disorder and my kids’ abilities to be kind in the face of insult. And I think this is as it should be: asking God’s generous favor, slathered all over our kids.
But there’s this. I was reading Brene Brown last night, who occasionally helps me get my emotional head screwed on straight. And she reminded me of this: “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.”
I’m thinking out loud about this over on WeAreTHATFamily.com again. Want to hop over and check it out?
May you have all you need this week to do things hard and holy.
Grief is a chisel.
As you know now, my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.
Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.
Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.
Is there a chance we’re raising spiritually entitled kids?
I’m posting on this today at weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you.
For those of you who’ve been married: Do you remember what “just married” felt like? After the sound of the tin cans clanking behind the car faded, after you set your bags down in your together home after the honeymoon—what was it like?
Reality: No matter how much training you’ve had, one flesh takes a lotta work. My sin settled in our little 500-square-foot apartment right alongside our stacks of wedding gifts. And when my sin collided head-on with his? Well, let’s just say sometimes I wished our duplex walls were a little thicker.