Maybe Magic is Overrated

It's been a busy last few weeks with hosting my family for Thanksgiving and cramming in as many possible holiday activities in since then. I've written in the past about how my perfectionism comes out during holidays and I'd venture to say I'm not alone in that. It's not that I tell myself "I want everything to be perfect" but I think the massive amount of effort perfectionists put into the holidays has to do with wanting to feel something. I could be wrong. Perfectionism is most definitely about being in control and having things your way. But I think perhaps the obsessive level of activity and wanting everything to be "just so" also relates to our desperate desire for the holidays to make us feel a certain way. For me, I feel a sense of anxiety as the days race towards December 25th because I want to make sure that at some point before it's all over, it actually "feels" like Christmas. If you're too busy, it's not fun. It's stressful and even if the activities seem festive, your heart is hard as a rock. And if you're not busy enough, it doesn't feel magical, like it's any other busy time, but not Christmas. But the streets are crowded and sometimes annual activities are different than last year and suddenly you wake up and just can't do one more thing. And so you stay home and another day passes on the Advent calendar. Tick. Tock.

I want to feel magic. I want my faith to be rekindled in a way that makes everything right and clear and good. I want to be a child again where you could hear a tale woven from fables and it made sense in a way that unicorns and glitter and rainbows just work. I want something to be pure. Compromise is so overrated. I want hope, desperately. I want to believe we are good and can work together and heal this world. I could use some joy. But most of all, I seek peace. The world needs peace in a big way right now. But my adult brain isn't able to get lost from reality, not really. While I was warm in my car this morning with my kids getting our tree, I was thinking about the freezing cold people at Standing Rock. And when I was in a church surrounded by at least a thousand Christians singing about Jesus, I realized there were exactly 3 black people in the room. THREE. Last week my Reverend reminded us that things weren't so tidy in the world when Jesus came either. The Jews were living in occupied territory. Their king was born in a barn to a teenage girl (who is a total bad ass, BTW). There is something glorious about this time of year for sure (the white people Christmas still made me tear up a few times) but there is alongside it a darkness, a reality that refuses to be glossed over. That people are hurting. Some of us are cold and hungry. And a lot of the joy isn't being passed out freely but with strings attached to belief systems and color and class systems. I know that sounds terrible, like I've become a cynic and the magic has died within me. I don't think that's the case. I think the more we become socially aware (and I know I have a long, long road ahead of me - I was still shocked Trump won so that says something for sure), the more we live in the duality of light alongside dark not light against dark. The world is not the binary system we were raised to live in - clear, tidy, with battle lines drawn. The lines are within me and you and everyone around. We are the light and the dark, not just on the outside but on the inside, deep within. Yes there is beauty and glory and life. But there is greed and darkness and pain as well. 

I think my black and white brain has been wrestling with the gray ever since we lost our ministry work 5 years ago. Now I live in the gray all the time. I think I might be better for it. Maybe magic is overrated. I've had magic sneak in the nooks and crannies of heartbreak. I see it in the beautiful music and my crazy children and in a killer conversation I had with my dad last week (more to come). I see it and feel it around me and within me. But if magic seeks to have us sit on our laurels while others aren't given the same level of escape, maybe it's not really the goal. Perhaps the holiday goal isn't to have the perfect table, but to have a full one, a bigger one, with more diversity, fewer rules and a whole lot of grace.


Separation is Hard

I like to think of myself as a pretty chill parent. I let my kids lead for the most part. We still set boundaries with our children, as you should in any relationship, but I don't have a lot of actual "rules", more like rituals. Anyway, because of the whole one less car issue, I made the executive decision to have Macy ride the bus to school for the rest of the year. She's changing school next year (for exciting reasons I'm sure I'll talk about some other time!) and we are required to drive her there. So this is clearly a 5ish week change. But my darling daughter is me to a tee. She resists change. When I mentioned to her that it was a real possibility, she was upset. We were walking home from school and she essentially raced away and walked home without me. I figured she needed time to process her feelings and wasn't surprised. We had a bus incident (I'm sure it'll come up here eventually) when she was in kindergarten that I had in the back of my mind to revisit so she doesn't have issues with independence in this area and karma intervened. Here we are, taking the bus. 
So we're confronting some past trauma for both of us. We're also making an unexpected change and not really by choice. We're cutting into the precious Macy/Mommy time we have each morning and both of us share Quality Time as our primary love language. And yet, once Daddy explained through the emotional haze that this was a necessary step for all of us (it's really the safest, best choice for the family with one vehicle right now) and that sometimes being in a family means doing things that we don't want to do. Personal sacrifice is part of community and that's an important lesson (one I'm still really wrestling with on the church level) to learn. 
Waiting patiently for me to return after a potty break.
20 minutes, people!
Once I realized that on top of feeling like there's too much change for her (new school next year and getting glasses) that Macy's primary concern was not having as much time with me, I determined that I would get up earlier and make her lunch the night before. Of course, we were ready way early and rather than read together, which I was fully expecting, Macy was ready to skip to the curb and wait for the bus for TWENTY minutes. That kid. This, she also gets from me. Once the change is determined, you face it with gusto. We chatted with the neighbor boys and got the skinny on where to sit (and apparently where NOT to sit. Bus politics have not changed, my friends) and I introduced her to the bus driver. 
Lots of roadside hugs
I came home feeling sad and relieved. This time is different. When you revisit something that was scary, the fears start talking and shame voices gain traction. Sadness or grief pay a visit. If you don't know the word for this type of experience, it's called "triggering." I'm mostly nostalgic that my little girl is growing up and I'm proud of myself for making a hard decision that's still the right one for the whole family. Sometimes my perfectionist brain thinks that what is best for the whole family might harm the individual (this is a theme for me from the trauma of our post-partum depression experience). And sometimes, that's true. But in this case, I believe this is also what's best for Macy. If we can still get her need for quality time met, she will gain confidence and independence through this that will help prepare her to change schools in the fall. I guess all of that is to say, it's okay that "normal" adjustments are hard for you. I know so many people who don't bat an eye at this type of change and probably think I'm silly for feeling all the feels. But I do. Perhaps because I have so many feelings, it has made me the right mom for the daughter who is just the same. 

You Never Left

Like most people, I've changed a lot over the years. I've lived in different countries. I've traveled quite a bit. I've been privileged to participate in many beautiful relationships with people who may or may not still be in my life. I've done professional ministry in a multitude of settings, which can be very intense and bonding. As a sentimental person, I've often missed stages of my life or versions of myself that I feel like I can no longer access as the time passes. For a long time I idolized my high school faith. No one was more devout than 1995-1999 Kristy Nystrom. 
It can be easy to compare your life now to what it used to be and to come up wanting for whatever reason. Even more so, I think I tend to compare my current self to my younger self and sometimes feel that my maturing process has at times, looked more like a slow slide into "less than." Yes, this is perfectionism in its finest. I see this often in my girlfriends body image. It's easy after having a few kids, to feel like your "maturing process" is not yielding the results you want.
This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to go to yoga. For those of you that don't know, I did yoga regularly during both of my pregnancies and found it to be very helpful, but have not maintained any regular exercise since I became a mother the second time. I'm busier and our family was in such crisis with the post-partum depression for so long that exercise felt like an "extra." 
But I went back to yoga last week and came home feeling amazing. So, here I was getting up at the crack of dawn after an incredibly busy day celebrating Tim's birthday, wondering was this really a good idea? How am I going to handle the kids all day when I only got 6 hours of sleep (that is way too few in the Sibley house)? On my way to class, I saw the most gorgeous sunrise. Just a bright orange orb in my rear-view mirror and I knew it was a good idea. 
As we were going through the poses, my teacher came around, put essential oil on my forehead, checked my alignment and graced me with this phrase, "You never left." Tears welled up in my eyes as the blessing of her comment washed over me. I never left. Yes, I haven't been there in 2 years. And my life has changed dramatically in that time. Possibly the most accelerated personal and family growth of any 2 years of my life. Trauma has a way of intensifying everything. And yet, my body knew what to do, my heart was open to the work and my spirit was at rest. 
Yes, we go through change. Sure, the maturing process can be painful and make us reminisce about days with simplicity and fewer responsibilities. But ultimately, in those moments where you check in with who you are and how you feel about yourself, you never really left. No one can take away from you anything about your life or yourself. Of course, most things in life are temporary. And loss slips through our fingers like sand, often unexpectedly. But there is a stability in us, a permanence that is refined by life but cannot be stolen. In trauma, it feels otherwise, but on the other side of it, I can honestly say, I'm still here.

Perfectionism and the Holidays

Being a perfectionist around the holidays can be a truly terrible affliction. Not just for the perfectionist, for you the whole family of one (and we have two in our house!) It creates this vortex of colossal expectations, one-shot opportunities, stressful expense of energy and money, shame, shame, oh, the shame - So. Much. Pressure. Usually with a lot of people around. 
I've always been the holiday queen in this house. My husband is not really into holidays, though he tries to be a good sport (after we've had many conversations about how much they mean to me). But, I do everything I can physically do myself. This includes putting up our exterior lights and getting down most of the heavy boxes. When I get into "holiday mode" I want everything done my way, on my timetable (now!) and with cheer. This is why I do not wait for my husband. Our dynamic usually requires respect and patience and I don't exude either very well in these crucial holiday prep moments. So I do the classic perfectionist move (passive aggressive) of taking it all on myself so it can be done perfectly. I highly recommend this healthy choice.
I'm very emotionally invested in how all my hard work, dreams and extensive planning plays out. Not only must everything go well (exactly as I imagined), look beautiful, but everyone better have fun and be happy -- or else! The icing on the cake is that my therapist likes to point out that somewhere in all this expectation, exhaustion, total lack of grace for myself and others, I'm truly looking for appreciation. So, I run around hoping that everything goes according to my perfect expectations (very interesting when you remember that this involves two very spirited young children) while expecting every member of my family to be filled with gratitude after I've told them all exactly how and how not to have fun. 
This dynamic has never been more apparent to me than last night. I was in a really bad place to begin with, which is an indication to me that it was probably not a great night to add in all the holiday hooplah involved in decorating the house. But I still operate under the illusions that holidays are fun. Sweet, right? So when I'd had a bad day and I love Christmas, why wouldn't I unknowingly make the mistake of suggesting to your energetic six year old that it's the perfect time to decorate? 
As the usual crazy unfolded, I was also trying to put the baby down for a nap, keep our oldest from digging through the breakables, setting everything out "just so", and of course - secretly prepping our homemade Advent calendar because duh, it's also December 1st. Oh, and a school night. And I had an insane Thanksgiving week filled with hosting, endless cooking, traveling alone with 2 kids, lots of driving, working, shopping, plus a SHITTY day to begin with. All that means is, I didn't have any emotional energy to be patient, kind, generous, calm or gracious to myself or my family. This situation called upon my shame voice, just to be on standby for any human moments. All it takes is one broken treasured item, one terse word exchanged for it to start shouting. "See! It doesn't matter how much you run around. This isn't even fun. You're not having any fun and neither is anyone else." Or this self-pity gem, "Why do you even bother? All you do is make your daughter feel bad when you want to re-do her 6 year old decorating because it's not perfect. Sure, you're trying so hard to rein it in and let her help, but you just can't let everything go. You might as well be a tyrant. You've got to "correct" her sometimes and that hurts her. Look at how she's stomping her foot and turning away from you. Now you're shaming her too." Ha, even my shaming voice shames me about shaming my daughter. Who can win in that situation?  
If you thought I was going to end this post with all these loose ends neatly tied up, loaded with tips on how to simplify your life this Christmas season and all my personal anecdotes on how to give yourself grace and be victorious over perfectionism, you're not gonna get that from me. This was where I was at last night, people. Not much growth happens while you sleep. All I'm prepared to do at this point is identify how unhelpful shame is in this hot mess of unfair expectations, very poor self-care, and a total lack of giving grace. Sometimes just seeing yourself objectively is all you can do to say, huh, this isn't working. 
At least I have a whole 36 hours to figure it out, before we plan on cutting down our tree and decorate that thing too.

Give Dignity

As a perfectionist, I struggle with separating my actions from my personal value. Most perfectionists either under-perform or over-perform. The under-performers contemplate a task, feel overwhelmed by their inability to do it perfectly and choose not to attempt it at all. Over-performers do too many tasks, often thoroughly and then project their high-achieving personal expectations onto others all the while feeling resentment and exhaustion because they have to "do everything themselves." Both of these life approaches seriously suck. I get to say that because I'm talking about myself. (I'm the latter, by the way, and waffle between judging and feeling jealous of the former).
I bring this issue up in the midst of my series on personal values because I think it touches on the core of my next value. I'm calling it dignity. For me, part of my reasoning for removing myself from the church environment, at least for now, has been about an inappropriate connection I've felt in church between self and actions. When we condemn people, rather than choices, I think we've made a critical error. We've chosen not to give dignity to the human being in question. 
I firmly believe that human beings were made in the image of God, that we are intended for good, that we are capable of great things, and that ultimately, we are good. Are we also capable of self-destructive patterns that can harm others? Of course. But is that who we really are, in our heart of hearts? Is that where we are happiest, most fulfilled, free and full of love, joy and peace? No. *
Because of this belief, I reject any cultural pattern that uses shame as a way to control behavior. This very much includes the evangelical church. Children are not "bad girls/boys" when they make bad choices. They are precious people who are doing something wrong/unhealthy/harmful/bad, however you want to frame that. But they are not bad when they make bad choices, have a bad moment, feel big emotions, or make the "lesser" choice. They need guidance, tools, encouragement and dignity to make better choices. They don't need shame.
I cannot overstate how important the difference is between these two approaches. When we make someone feel bad about WHO THEY ARE based on WHAT THEY DO, we're often perpetuating the exact reasons why people make bad choices in the first place - because they feel like shit. (I'm also really working on not framing everything as "good" or "bad" in the first place, but that's another conversation. I'm using good/bad framework to make a greater point here).
Using this lens, I see the people around me, my children and myself very differently. I'm working to no longer pressure myself to behave in order to make others approve of me, that their approval somehow makes me something that I'm not without it. It's revolutionized the way I approach my faith. I'm beginning to learn what grace really is! And guess what? It's AWESOME. I'm replacing the idea that I'm terrible and He's so great with I'm great and He thinks so too. He's my source and He's my friend. While I tend to be hard on myself, He's soft towards me. In my personal experience (which I understand is wildly subjective), He is always sweeter, kinder, gentler and more patient that I am with myself. After all this time, I'm still blown away by Him.
It's taken me awhile to identify shame and its destructive nature in me. If you're not entirely sure what I'm talking about, check out Brene Brown's extensive work on the subject. She has done amazing research and her descriptions of what shame feels like and how to combat it have been really helpful to me. When you shut yourself down because your feelings are "stupid/dramatic/dumb/overreacting", that's shame. When you decide not to communicate what you're thinking and feeling because "they probably won't listen to me anyway/it's not important/it'll just make them mad", that's shame. When you don't want to do something but you do it anyway because you feel like you should, that's often motivated by shame. When you don't communicate what you need because "it's too much/not worth it/silly", that's shame. 
We have GOT to give ourselves dignity or we'll never be able to extend it to others. We don't give ourselves dignity so we can dole it out (also an important distinction). We give ourselves dignity because God put it in us when He made us. Humans are inherently valuable regardless of belief, age, sex, race, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status and political party. We are worthy of respect and dignity BY NATURE. We need to acknowledge that within ourselves and within the people all around us, especially people we don't love or agree with. It's so insanely easy to assume ill motive of others who come from a different perspective. But they deserve dignity and their views are valid, even if you disagree. 
The lack of giving others dignity (I also see this as giving people the benefit of the doubt) is so clearly seen in how conservative Christians treat Barack Obama. Yes, apparently I'm going there. He's a person, guys. He's not the anti-christ, terrorist, Muslim that you say he is. He's a person. You may disagree with him politically. That's fine. We're lucky to live in a country where that is perfectly acceptable. Use your voting power and your influence to make change. In your disagreement, don't forget to acknowledge that he is a human being and therefore, has inherent dignity that needs to be treated with respect. (My husband next to me would like to add that this disparaging treatment, of course, happened to George W. Bush as well. Unfortunately, hatred runs on both sides of this partisan river. This is one of the many reasons I try to stay out of political arguments - says the woman who probably just started one).
When we focus on sin elimination in the church (always working on some sin area in our lives) we completely miss the point of grace. God is not in the business of behavior modification. Of course, we are not entirely separate from our actions. But neither are we the sum of them. The story of the adulterous woman comes to mind. The Jews bring before Jesus a woman they caught in the act of adultery and ask if she is to be stoned (according to Old Testament law). Not even going to start ranting here about where the eff the man is in this scenario, but seriously? WTF? Jesus gets down on her level, writes something on the ground (we don't know what) and asks the crowd to stone her if they haven't sinned themselves. They all walk away, he looks into her eyes and tells her she's safe ("I don't condemn you") and she can make different choices ("Go and sin no more), not because she's a bad person and needs to shape up, but because she is loved! She matters! He is giving her dignity. 
This is a huge deal for a number of reasons. He had every authority to lay into her. Man, he would have been fully qualified to condemn her. The object of this gift of dignity is a woman. Seriously, in this culture, especially an "impure" woman was of very little value. He spoke to her. He got on her level. He defended her publicly. He did not condemn her. He also empowered her to do good. If he can give her dignity, how can we not give it to her and to ourselves as well? 
Who are the "adulterous women" in our modern culture? Certainly, women are still struggling to be given dignity. Definitely anyone in a racial minority. There is certainly a lot of angst among the various religious groups in our country right now. Homosexual and transgender individuals most definitely. Poor people, yup. How can we give dignity to them? How can we stop seeing them as "them" and begin to see them as "us"? Because let's face it, folks: every human has inherent dignity given to them by God. Don't take it away. Be in the business of giving it back.

* As a side note, I will say that I believe there is a point in a person's life where they can cultivate their evil leanings, leading to a very active, purposefully destructive lifestyle. While I believe this goes against our intended nature, it is clearly evident in those who take great pleasure in hurting others. I'm more speaking to us normal folks, not the sadists in the world.