I found myself vaguebooking after a difficult incident this evening and figured that type of behavior in me is indicative of a very real need to write. As a mother, I do a pretty awkward dance with protecting my children's childhood and giving them an appropriate level of street smarts. Growing up in the 80's with a mom who had legitimate fears for her children, I was possibly overly made aware of the dangers of being a vulnerable child in the big, bad world. The 80's seemed to be a time for well-publicized, freak kidnapping stories that terrified mothers nationwide, and for good reason. This is where the "stranger danger" campaign came from as well as the ransacking of your children's Halloween candy for drugs and needles. 

For me, I tend to lean too far the other way, possibly as an overcompensation, and more than likely, because I'm not much of a worrier. I'm really not. I realized recently that I live my life like I expect things to go well. That is what led me to travel all over the world by the time I was 19, largely unattended by "adults" with little to no fear for my safety. Let me tell you - it was awesome. I'm not reckless with what I would have constituted as "moral risks". I was a virgin when I got married (I know!); I've never done drugs or even been drunk. But hop on a train to a foreign company with no place to stay for the night? Sure!

So, I don't spend my days following my children around with band-aids and tissues. I try to evaluate the worst possible outcome of the choices I witness them making, recognize that their likelihood is slim and hope for the best. So far, that's worked for me. Tim is the more reasonable one, sending them to the doctor, not allowing them to climb all over everything, not wanting them to eat snow, etc. So here's my problem: apparently, my oldest has no concept that she is in danger when she has given me the slip in public. She has no idea the sheer terror that courses through my veins when I can't for the life of me find her. Three times this has happened this summer and tonight took the cake.

We were in the 5 story public library when she asked to go ahead of Penny and I down the concrete stairs. I said sure, but you must stay inside the building. She ran down the stairs while Penny carefully took the 3 stories one step at a time. When we got to the bottom, Macy wasn't "hiding" under the stairs like she usually is. The librarian at the bottom hadn't seen her. The story in between the children's floor and the bottom floor is administrative, so I knew she wasn't there. I scoured the bottom floor carrying a very heavy library bag, my purse and bumping into Penny at every turn. We were on our way down the block to the movies so I was also on a time crunch. 

I went to the lobby area to set down the bag and glance outside on the off chance she'd stepped just outside the door. Nothing. Suddenly, I see two men of color and a young boy gesturing me outside. I had seen them when Penny and I were on the stairs. I run out and they ask me, are you looking for your daughter? Yes, I exhale and try to inhale. Purple dress? Yes, she just went down the street and got into a car. Oh shit. Meanwhile, Penny is trapped in that damn circular door, gotta run back and free her while she's screaming. I pick her up and race down the street where I know my car is parked. And what do I see? Macy sitting in her booster seat reading. I thank the men, put Penny in her carseat and just shake. And shake. And shake. With rage. With relief. With terror. With all the curse words I'm not saying but must be screaming from my pores. What the hell were you thinking? I actually say. I pull back up to the 5 min parking at the library to run in and grab the giant pile of books I had discarded. I call Tim frantically. He doesn't pick up the phone. I stop and start angry sentences all the way home at my ignorant child. No, we're not going to the movies. Yes, this isn't fair to your sister who did nothing wrong. No, I was very clear you were not to leave the building. Yes, this is serious and you will be spending the evening in your room. 

I came home, woke up poor sick Tim from his nap and vented all my fears and anger at the situation while he nodded in his poor, sick stupor. He agrees 100%. He's in there to talk to her through his strep throat, swollen vocal chords. I'm trying to calm down. No, I can't see her face until I calm down. Yes, I need to eat so badly. Fattening comfort food ensues. TV turns on as Penny is suddenly very interested in interacting with me. My muscles slowly start to uncurl. And here I am.

Here's the thing: risk-taking is a critical life skill. I feel really strongly that children need to not be afraid of everything, that the best experiences in life involve an element of risk (falling in love, finding personal success, choosing to be vulnerable, starting over...) And yet, my kid has no idea why her lack of listening in these situations puts her at risk. So now my child has shown me that she must be told that while the world is a beautiful place full of incredible people, it also has a lot of really terrible realities of which she knows nothing. Things like kidnapping. That there are people in the world who take pleasure in hurting others, particularly the most vulnerable, innocent people. I hate this. I feel like the loss of innocence is a bad thing. I know when it's torn from someone it is a bad thing. I know that's not what this is. This isn't trauma; it's education. But it feels bad, like I'm losing something and that it's hurting her. Perhaps I am losing something - I'm losing my "little" girl. 

I mentioned in my blog post about "clumsy advocacy" that I recently joined a #blacklivesmatter moms group. And one of the things we're looking to explore as a group is how to expose our children to the racial realities in this country. How do we begin to explain systemic racism, white privilege and the school to prison pipeline? There's a mama bear in me that wants so desperately to keep my little kids little. And yet, how do I raise ethically-minded children unless I mold their developing minds toward these realities? Children understand certain things (like injustice) way more deeply and easily than many adults, so it's a wonderful time to plant moral seeds. I guess as Macy's growing up, I have to incrementally help her grow up, into these difficult realities, whether I want to or not. Because she needs to be aware for her own safety and hopefully, in order to advocate on behalf of others. Sometimes parenting is a punch in the gut.

I Have a Dirty Little Secret...

I'm a network-marketer! I know, I know. They get the sweetest of people, those bastards. No really. I've been in network-marketing for 11 and a half years. My parents met in the same company that I work with (Shaklee!) and are my upline leaders. It's weird, I know. I think I've treated my work like a dirty little secret because the term "network-marketing" or "multi-level marketing" generates a lot of images for people, some positive, many not so much. I'm a people-pleaser and don't like to annoy people. And I hate making people uncomfortable. Hate it. Unless it involves helping them re-frame their ideas about God's giant all-consuming grace, granting rights for marginalized people groups or the value of self-care. But what makes this different? In my black and white brain, I'm either the "business owner" or the "artist." Somehow I can't have a professional vehicle that fuels my creative process. Nope, that would be too easy. I fear that focusing on one takes away from the other. And yet, how many writers do you know that can really fund a life on their writing income? I know a few who've been paid, but none that are making what you would call "career income." 

I've always felt torn, like being a business owner was some form of selling out. It's embarrassing, really, because the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that my business income is what has allowed us to live into our values of giving back to our community with my husband's non-profit career. If you thought we were making peanuts in ministry, try moving into non-profits (wah wah). And yet we have almost no debt besides our modest mortgage. Why is that? Shaklee. I am so proud and grateful for what my little home-based business has meant to us. Let alone all the people I've helped make money or build their health (ideally both). I realized tonight when I was preparing for a business presentation tomorrow that next month, I will be able to say I've made $100,000 in Shaklee. That's a lot of money! And while money doesn't drive me, contributing to our income has allowed us to stay out of debt on a serviceable income and live comfortably in our townhouse that we love so much. That's not something I should be ashamed of, ever. 

If you're a starving artist and want some financial stability, give me a shout! I'm proud to say, I'm pretty damn good at what I do. And certainly, anyone who takes any products relating to the health and wellness, weight loss, green cleaning and chemical-free personal care products industries, you've got a connection right here. I'm happy to say I love myself enough to be proud of the many hats I wear. Not just "mom" and "wife" but "business owner" and "writer" too. And who knows? Maybe I can support our values with both...stranger things have happened.

Get Back in Your Box and Other Such Nonsense

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with as a woman is the social pressure to be less, smaller, quiet. I am none of those things. And while I've always cared about other peoples feelings and social pressure, I've never been those things. I am big. I am loud. I don't like to be behind the scenes. And I have lots of feelings. Unfortunately, because I am intelligent, I am often in conversations or environments where those things about me, particularly my big feelings, are treated as a liability rather than an asset. I cannot tell you how many seasons of my life I spent trying to tame the beast that is me. I tried to be quiet, to be small, to be less. I am, sadly, still given that opportunity from time to time and it is a difficult thing to resist. 
And yet there is this other raging voice that comes in and wants me to burn it all to the ground. It makes me want to throw in the towel and just rage at everyone and everything that might want to correct me, change me, reason with me, disagree with me, etc. This reaction to refusing to get back into the box is normal. It's part of how we deal with a philosophical shift. We react in a big way and lean hard in the other direction. I also believe this "box stuff" is triggered by my church trauma and so being reactionary also touches on an area of grief and loss for me. 
The problem with living in this world with a black and white brain is that I've come to the point in my process where my life is giving me opportunities for a middle ground. I will not get back in the box, that much is absolutely secure. And yet, can I live in community with people who are in those boxes but are not willing to get out, or who do not agree that they are a problem or who claim they love their box? Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to climb back in? Am I discrete enough that I won't jump in to their box and rip it from them? Can I respect their process?
I can't imagine that there are only a few boxes and we're all in them or out of them, but rather that each person has boxes that they stay in, burn down or reason with. So my box might work for someone else but it is bondage to me. Can I be shaped by or vulnerable with someone in my old box? I feel my life knocking on this door and I want to run so badly. I want to burn it all down. I am afraid to face those boxes, even as a stronger, more confident version of myself. I want to stop fighting growth because growth hurts and moderation is for suckers. Becoming more mature and healthier is so, so hard. I'm scared. And yet, drawing a line in the sand, and declaring "I'm done sitting in my stuff!" to the world feels like losing. I know that the more I go down this road of personal development, the more growth, joy, peace and freedom I will find. No one can put me in the box again. But being unable to be around my old boxes is just a new kind of box, isn't it? I will not let my fear dictate my life. I won't. 

Learning to Spot the Villain Within

Yesterday in my counseling session, my therapist and I were discussing if I was ready to decrease the frequency of our sessions. Of course, she turned it around on me and asked me if I thought I was ready. I went on to discuss for the entire session how the process of therapy has helped me in that last year and a half. One of the ways I've grown is that I no longer have to villainize someone in order to feel good about disagreeing with them. Before, if I wanted to validate my own feelings or thoughts, I had to make sure that the opposing viewpoint was "bad" or at least, "less than" my own. And, if we're going way back, I used to feel the need to belittle the motives or the very personhood of those holding opposing viewpoints because I truly couldn't imagine anyone who was (insert positive attribute here) and believed those things. 
I find this personal evolution to be of great value. To be frank, I'm really proud of and happy for myself! It's allowed my black and white brain to hold things I used to deem mutually exclusive as both true in some form. For example, when we were fired from ministry, we were hurt very deeply. The very process of being fired, especially from something so all-encompassing and personal as ministry, is deeply disturbing. It rocked our world. It was also painful because we felt it was handled poorly. In the process of grief and in the passing of time, I've come to the conclusion that the job loss was a life-altering event for both of us, that some of what happened was truly wrong and that those involved in the hurting are not terrible, hateful people. Those three things couldn't all sit together in my mind before, particularly those last two. If we were hurt and we decided that "they didn't know any better" then we were dishonoring or dismissing our pain. And if they did know better, then they were hurting us intentionally and we don't want to have anything to do with them (this also makes the brain conclude we're nothing like them). And the "we're all human" band-aid people love to put on pain is really just a free pass on anything we don't really want to feel. Now, I can hold both realities. I was hurt. They messed up. There was some truth to some of the things they said and did. They cared about us. They didn't want to crush us. But they didn't want us to run the ministry anymore. That's a challenging reality to be in. But this is the reality. 
I've had the pleasure of engaging in a lot of sensitive dialogue on social media lately. Our nation is wrestling with so much. And man, I am a passionate person, particularly about anything related to social justice. I believe the part of me that gets irate on behalf of the welfare of others is a good thing and is from God. What got me in trouble before (and that still makes itself known on occasion) is when I lose sight of the humanity of those I oppose. When we stop listening, stop imagining what it might be like to be someone else, stop seeing the good intent behind what we deem a wrongly held viewpoint, we awaken the villain within. I'm pleased to say that I no longer feel the need to use my anger (that's sometimes righteous) as a weapon to validate myself. I'm learning to hold two opposing realities. This is making me a better listener, a better lover of people and even a better advocate. We can get so much more done when we discuss sensitive things in a kind way. But the kindness has to be real, not patronizing. If you're not feeling kind, don't post! Read and learn from others. Our world will be a much better place when we tame the villain within and open our minds and our hearts to the possibility of change.  

The Illusion of Intellectual Scarcity

I consider one of my greatest gifts to be my intuition, specifically within the context of human interaction. I got my degree in psychology, with the idea that one day I would go to graduate school to become a therapist. I finished college at 21 years old and felt like I needed more life experience before I could offer a client lasting help in therapy. All these years later, it's still on my radar, though I have a lot of care-taking tendencies to continue to let go of if I'm ever going to pursue excellence in therapy (no other way to pursue such a tender calling, in my opinion). And I may not end up becoming a therapist at all. I see this process as part of my journey in becoming whoever I'm meant to be no matter which activities that does or doesn't lead me to. 
Sometimes I find myself intimidated by my more intellectual friends. For some funny reason, I have several friends in my sphere who have been trained in the art of debate. While I'm certainly honing my ability to have intense conversation with the honest intent to learn, rather than to correct, sometimes I find myself logically outmatched. Occasionally, my intimidation keeps me from writing. There are so many well thought-out pieces being written every day, shared online and submitted to my psyche for further rumination. What makes me think that my more emotional/relational perspective can really add to a cultural conversation? I'm not one to research statistics and frankly, I'm not all that interested in being intellectually compelling. 
My niche is more in perceived rightness than in provable logic. I live my life based on my beliefs, which are being filtered more and more through my intuition as I learn to give it more value and space. While I admire my friends whose belief filters are based on logic, I'm learning to validate the mystery and wonder of living by instinct. (Perhaps their instinct is to find truth through knowledge so this is just the other side of the same coin). One of the challenges to validating my feelings-based worldview is that I grew up in an authoritarian culture. My dad is a military man, extremely logical, a total perfectionist and a conservative evangelical. I'm the youngest of seven and female. These factors put me in a framework of seeing the world as pretty damn black and white. Plus, I'm a people-pleaser...gah! Instinct gets undervalued when there is always one right answer and the authority figure already has it. I don't mean this as a criticism of my dad personally or even of the intellectual worldview (to be fair, there are many variations on a intellectual worldview, including a total rejection of black and white thinking) but just as a means of highlighting the effort it has taken for me to say that living in my heart and mind, which is very feelings-based, is perfectly valid. 
Along with my authoritarian family culture, there was my church culture to contend with. I could discuss at length the very elevated value evangelical culture places on the Bible, in which my church of Christ upbringing upped the ante considerably. In this culture, all instinct that goes against a literal reading of the Bible must be cast out, of the devil and will lead to your eventual demise. There is an actual teaching that your heart is not to be trusted. I'm learning to sit in the places where a literal biblical interpretation and my compassionate, emotional self diverge and ask questions. No longer "why, God, why?" but more "is there another way to see this?" 
As you can imagine, this gets messy quickly, leaving room for more questions than answers. But I'm learning to see the beauty in my intellectual mess because I'm being faithful to the heart that God has given me. The heart that sides with people over behavioral purity. I remind myself that Jesus was a bit of an enigma. He broke an awful lot of centuries-old rules and made a lot of people mad. Oftentimes, Christians use that as an excuse to fight things like gay marriage, almost like offending people means we're doing the right thing. I say, perhaps we're doing the right thing if we're offending the religious sect that has all their theological ducks in a row and doesn't see the very living, breathing, beautiful person right in front of them. The person who was made in the image of God. The person who has inherent value. The person who deserves every opportunity. The person who is equally important regardless of race, gender, social status, education or sexual orientation. The person who isn't broken or perfect, just human, which is all we ever need to be.
I guess what I want to say today is that there is enough room at the table for conversation for all of us feelers too. That perhaps the union of emotional intelligence and logic makes for a better learning experience for us all. And I am trying not to be afraid to speak my heart when sometimes all the voices I hear are speaking their mind.  

Frozen (No, Not the Movie)

I'm taking a break from my series on personal values tonight to discuss the angst my perfectionism sometimes creates. Living in the brain of a perfectionist is really tough and can leave you feeling frozen. We don't value process, only result. This inevitably puts pressure on every endeavor (however small), to bring about the expected result and in a timely, quantitative manor. When you add in my care-taking tendencies, any kind of personal development efforts become very uncomfortable. I want to grow, but I don't want to wait. I want to branch out and take risks, but only if I can see how they benefit others, leaving any personal gratification as a nice byproduct. This is why it was a big deal when I went kayaking. It was something that was just for me (and Danna) and it was just for fun. I didn't earn any money, I didn't improve my health (unless you count the exercise), and it did not directly benefit my family (although I came home happy). These seem to by my criteria for venturing out: financial gain, improvement of health (so I can keep taking care of everyone else) or some obvious benefit to my family. Yikes. How sad is that?
These feelings are cropping up tonight because I peeked into the life of someone else and I was left wanting. I saw her heart on a page and it was beautiful. And I wanted the pieces of my puzzle to fit together to look like hers. Does that ever happen to you? You see someone at the end of a long journey and want to be where they are, rather than in the middle of yours? Maybe it's the youngest child in me or the perfectionist, but I don't want to go through the work. I want to be able to do it easily or not at all. Boy, does that limit me! 
It makes me tremendously sad, these feelings on nights like tonight. I want to believe in myself enough to know that my puzzle will look beautiful too. It may look a lot like hers and it may not at all. I want to be the kind of person who is encouraged by the success and story of another, knowing they're someone who I have a lot in common with, someone who is a comrade, not a threat. Maybe this comes from a feeling of scarcity*, that if she finds her calling, that somehow there will be less left for me. I know in my heart, that's not true. That one person's personal success does not disqualify me from having my own. 
I've always felt a little caught off guard by my peers who have "for real" careers. I went to a great college and sometimes it hits me anew that I know people MY AGE who somehow ended up becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, activists (you get the idea). I always feel this weird paranoia, like, "when was the conference on how to have a grown-up career and what was I doing instead?" I mean, do people really know how to do their jobs? And if so, HOW, exactly? When did everyone become something? Can I become something? I see the end results around me and wonder what my "in process" state will lead to. Is it leading somewhere? I'm honestly wondering, guys. 
I want to feel like each season of my life matters, that this time at home raising small children, going to therapy, writing, being in relationship, processing my theology and taking risks (I'm taking an art class right now!) has a significant purpose. I know that it does. And, despite everything I just said, I'm not wishing it away. I'm so happy to have my sweet little girls and I know I will treasure these years. I've never been one of those people who was really career-minded. I always figured I'd dabble. I'm not someone who was going to be one thing forever, and frankly, I prefer that (perhaps that's the globe-trotter in me, never stay too long in one place). 
I feel like this is a season of preparation. For what, I don't know, exactly. Maybe I just need to be patient. Ha! That's a good one. But no, seriously, I'm curious to see what my final product will look like. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
*This idea of scarcity is a common reason for what I see as American greed. Maybe that'll come up in a post on personal values soon. 

Artists Change the World

Last week, Penny and I traveled to Long Beach, CA for a convention I had for work. I work for myself, but distribute for a corporation and our CEO is somehow both a billionaire and a nice guy. Not sure how that works, but it meant I got to watch Jewel perform on the last night of the convention. Remember, I went to high school in the late 90's, so this was pretty sweet. Plus, my mom was back at the hotel with sleeping Penny so I got to be fully in the moment. I feel silly getting so worked up about seeing Jewel because she's not currently "a big deal", but I'm only giving you that one apology, because she was amazing. There is just something infinitely beautiful about watching someone do exactly what they should be doing with their life. It's evident not just in their obvious talent, but in how they wield their talent as this weapon of beauty that touches everyone who witnesses it. I know her 90's hits well, but I could barely sing along because she was riffing so much on her own stuff that I was blown away by her obvious musical mastery. I could rant about how untalented many current "musicians" are in comparison today, but that'll just date me even more, so let's just pretend I didn't say anything. 
I think no matter where I was in my journey I would have enjoyed her performance. But in light of everything that's happening in my world right now, it was particularly poignant. Because you see, I have typically minimized the arts as something that's great for really talented, other people to do, but that I am supposed to do something "productive." I'm performance-based and that translates into more tangibly productive activities. Things like the business I was being trained to build at my convention. But lately all the artistic somethings that have welled up in my heart for many, many years are starting to overflow. I've tamped them down. I've belittled them. I've justified my various distractions. I've tried to be practical. I've judged my undeveloped abilities. I've put the spotlight on others and elevated my safer choices (ironically, this includes ministry) as the "right" choices for me. 
In order to discover the hidden artist in me, I have to be willing to take risks, to learn, to create space for vulnerability. These things frighten me. As a black and white thinker, I want to label all my non-artistic activities as "bad" before I can give myself permission to do anything else with my time, my energy and my heart. But the only bad thing about anything I do to deter my own impending artistry is just that: delaying the inevitable. I just might have to release myself to this process, to begin to unpack whatever gift(s) are pressed so tightly to my guarded heart. 
It's such a strange thing to know there is more waiting for you but not knowing what it is. I'm standing on the precipice of something beautiful, intense, sacred. Something that others may witness. But it's up to me to take that risk, to find out who I am fully, what I'm meant for ultimately. I've got a pretty normal life. The normal stuff has never quite been enough for me, but I've always been afraid to ask for more. I didn't want to get greedy. But what is a gift left unopened? It's a waste.