Freedom

The word freedom has been coming up for me lately. It seems like it’s everywhere and that’s when I know God is trying to tell me something. One definition of freedom is the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. For me, the freedom I am pondering lately is the freedom from a performative environment. Growing up there was a lot of pressure to make good grades, graduate high school and complete a bachelor’s degree, at least. And if you were really dedicated, a master’s or doctorate was the gold standard. My mom placed a high value on education, and for good reason. She herself was only one class away from a doctorate. She was a woman who valued education and made a career for herself in the 50s when it wasn’t the norm for women. She blazed her own trail and was her own person apart from the typical path of most women to get married and have a family after high school. She was a force to be reckoned with and she was my hero in many ways, but I also felt the pressure to live up to that ideal. It was about how well I performed and what I made of myself. Some of that pressure was definitely self-inflicted, but was there nonetheless.

I look back at my church experience as a teen and young adult and I see the purity culture and the damage that did to so many young people. It was about maintaining your purity, particularly if you were female, and if you didn’t, there was an immense shame. I lived a double life in high school trying to look like the perfect Christian girl but feeling like a failure. There was an unfair expectation of girls to try to maintain purity in the face of men being told they were slaves to their lust and they couldn’t help themselves in every man’s battle. The way we dressed as girls we were told was a stumbling block for the boys and we should do something about that. Years later I look back on that poor teenage girl who was wrestling with her shame and trying to be “good” and, I feel such anger for her. No one should have shamed her. They should have sat down and asked her how she was and how they could help her out of an abusive situation. But no one was concerned with how she really was, only what she did. That followed me until this year. I have felt damaged and such shame. I didn’t believe I deserved better. I didn’t believe I had any value other than what I could do for someone. It was all about ministering from your pain but that doesn’t actually heal the pain, it just makes you stuff it down and move forward. You must dig up that pain and actually deal with it, feel it and let go of it. And then, and only then, can you give to someone else from that pain in your life. You cannot give what you don’t have.

So now in my life, I’m declaring freedom. Freedom from shame. Freedom from performing. Freedom from others’ opinions. Freedom to be who I am. Freedom to be the same person inside that I am on the outside. Freedom from my addiction to codependence and people-pleasing. Freedom to be the person I was made to be. Freedom from patriarchy, the freedom to know I am just as valuable as the men in my life. Freedom to make decisions without second-guessing and judging myself. Freedom to do what is best for me. Freedom to have a relationship with God and to understand He loves me even if I never did another thing for Him. Freedom.

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Community

A few years ago now I moved into my husband’s grandmother’s house with his uncle and aunt on one side of us and his parents on the other. We also have two grandmothers who live with each of those families. So, there are four generations living in the same few houses. We see one another regularly and my kids play in all the yards like they are their own. People thought I was crazy when I moved here. “Why would you want to live next door to your in-laws?” And I will say there have been moments when I wondered what I did, but for the most part, it’s been great to have that support around us. It’s been a rough 10 years and we have needed the family support around us to make it through. And since then two more of my husband’s sisters and families have moved across the street. It’s very unusual though, for this day and age, to have your family live next door. Most people don’t even have family in the same state, I didn’t growing up.

Loneliness and isolation are epidemics in our society today. They are worse for your health than smoking 10 cigarettes a day or being obese! You might think that loneliness and isolation are the same thing, but they aren’t if you look at them closer. Isolation refers to being physically separated from others, something we all experienced during the pandemic. We were forced to be separated. Loneliness, on the other hand, is feeling alone. Everyone has had the experience of being in a room full of people and still feeling lonely. Our society is so individualistic that we have lost the value of community and having deep relationships with others. People used to live in a much more communal way and spent time together in person regularly. Now we scroll and post and think we have connected to others, but we haven’t really. We are settling for the illusion of community. It’s safer to scroll and like than it is to sit with someone face to face and have a conversation. Real connection is scary and messy.

How many people have been hurt by someone else? Like deeply hurt? Someone said or did something that cut you deeply. You thought you could trust someone and they betrayed you. Everyone has had that experience. It’s hard to want to trust again. But we must. One-third of people report being lonely. It’s such a health concern that the CDC has done multiple studies on it. We have to trust and seek out community for our physical and mental well-being. We were made to be in community. Even God himself is in a community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus had a community. He had many followers and there were crowds everywhere, but he was intentional with his community of 12 disciples and then even more closely connected with his inner circle of three.

So what would this community look like and how do we find it? So many of us attend church, have an exercise group or even a close friendship but are never getting past the surface of life. We talk about the weather, or the latest movie or even our families but never venture into real vulnerability. Is there anyone with whom you talk about the real hurts and pains in your life? Is there anyone you confess your deepest faults to? Does anyone really know how your marriage is really doing? Or are we just letting people see the IG version of ourselves. Unfortunately, in my experience, the church is one of the worst offenders in this. We go to church and put on our best selves for people. We ask each other “how are you?” and you better reply with “fine” if you are a normal Christian and “blessed” if you are a super Christian. We portray only what we think is acceptable. We never tell people our deepest hurts or sins. We fear rejection and being made to feel less than.

We adopted our daughter Kaki from Hong Kong at age 11. She had severe intellectual disability and other health challenges. Everyone around us thought we were super Christians for adopting her. They put us on a pedestal and we felt isolated. Everyone was watching and hoping this would be a miracle for her and our family. For years we hid the pain we were experiencing even from our family. How could we tell people how terrible life was with her? How could we tell them she was raging every day and trying to hurt us and the boys? We felt like a failure. We struggled with big questions about whether this was really what God wanted and we hated our situation. A few people were around us enough to figure out there were major issues, but not many. We had her with us for 6 years before she died tragically. We still cannot understand completely what God’s purpose in all that was, maybe we never will. But instead of turning to our community, we turned inward to shame. We didn’t have the community we needed to get through that because we hadn’t been intentional about building it. We did have friends who were there for us, but very few. I am determined to do things differently.

My hope for community is a group of people in my life that do life together. We eat meals together and talk about real things. They know how I’m really doing. And I know how they really are. We are close enough to get annoyed with each other and love each other enough to work through issues. We are of all ages and colors and political/social groups. We encourage each other to become better. We work through difficult things together. I think it’s possible. I think it’s desperately needed. I’ll leave you with lyrics to a song that encourages me to pursue this level of community.

All Together By Mike Donehey

No more playin’ Mr. Nice Guy
I’m done pretendin’ that I’m alright
I fake a laugh, keep actin’ upper class
Like I’ve never had a struggle in my whole life

oh, can I tell you the state I’m in?
(Ooh, ooh-ooh) cracks are where the light gets in

Maybe we don’t have to have it all together
What if grace made it safe to tell you the truth? Oh
Maybe we can make a shelter for each other
Turnin’ lies into light and we’ll make it through
All together, all together
Love keeps our broken pieces all together

I want a church that looks like 12 steps
Where all are honest and accepted
But it’s gonna take myself to cultivate
The kind of life that others haven’t seen yet

Am I the only one who struggles here and now?
Am I the only one who wrestles with my doubt?
And if I tell you all my secrets, will you go runnin’ out?
There’s only one way to find out
There’s only one way to find out

Christian Caste System

I’ve lived in denial of many things in my life. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of decades ignoring things in my life and pretending everything was great. I had an awakening that started through the last couple of years, but particularly in 2022, where I’m seeing things more clearly and unwilling to go back to living in denial. I’m growing and shifting and it’s positive, I feel, but it’s also difficult. When you start seeing things around you that are unhealthy, and you are seeking to become more mentally, emotionally and physically healthy, then it’s harder to ignore those things anymore without feeling disingenuous. One thing that is hard for me to witness right now is what feels like a Christian Caste System. A Caste system is a sociological construct that people are born into a particular group or caste in life and cannot move up into a better position just because that is the class they were born into. If you are born in the lowest class in your society then you will always be in that class. There is no room for improving your situation. That is not something that we as Americans tend to subscibe to, in fact, most people would say they love America because we give people options to move up in class, or down as the case may be, depending on how hard they work and how successful they are. It’s obviously more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea.

I see this Caste system in the church sometimes. If you aren’t from a certain family, or of a certain gender, have problems or issues that everyone knows about, are a social outcaste or not “typical”, then sometimes you aren’t seen the same as other more mainstream Chrsitian people. If you aren’t “spiritual” enough you are excluded from certain events or activities or groups. It’s not at all how I interpret what the church should be from a Biblical lense. What I see in the Bible, particularly the Gospels, is that Jesus was all about upsetting the religious hieracrchy of that day. Jesus challenged the religious leaders and their exclusion of people based on class or status. He ate with “sinners”, tax collectors and prostitutes. People that religious leaders felt were not to be associated with. We sometimes read those passages about Jesus eating with unacceptable people and miss the real depth of it. In those days a Jewish man would not eat with anyone who was not acceptable in society. To eat with someone was to accept them. We don’t really understand how upsetting it was for Jesus to eat at Matthew the tax collectors table. It was scandelous. Jesus loved people first and then asked them to change their lifestyles. In church we can often ask people to change so that then they will be acceptable. That is not what Jesus is about. Church should not be a country club of people who are perfect. It should be a hospital for the broken and hurting. We say we accept people but then don’t allow them to really be apart of our lives because they are uncomfortable to us. When people feel rejected by us as a church, then we are jeopardizing their relationship with Jesus. You can’t tell people they can’t be apart of a particular group in a church because they don’t measure up to your standards. That’s not church, that’s a country club. And this generation of young people can see through your BS and won’t be around for it.

Now let me be clear. I am not saying we should let just anyone lead people in the church. We have been too permissive with this at times and it’s led to horrific abuse and trauma. We should be very very discerning in who we let lead others. We have to remain a safe place for people. If someone has unresolved sin in their life that people know about, then they shouldn’t be leading others, particularly young people. When I was in high school and preacher came to speak at my youth retreat. He was preaching all about not putting unchristian music in your mind. That you should only listen to “christian” music. He asked me to run out to his truck to get something for him and I noticed some secular CDs in his truck. I confronted him about it and he brushed it off as “research” or some such BS. I didn’t buy it. And I no longer trusted him or what he was saying. Young people can be permenantly damaged in their relationship to God by a leader with a lifestyle that is inconsistant with what is being preached. We have to be carful about that. Putting someone who is struggling in a leadership position to help them grow is not a good idea and it’s potentially detrimental to those they lead.

Church has to be a place of welcoming and openness. It’s has to be a place of authentic community, not just lip service, but actual trust and community. We should be able to share our deepest hurts and what we are really going through, but so often we can’t because we don’t feel safe to do so. We are afraid of judgement. Jesus preached against that sort of thing 2000 years ago and yet here we are and we are still doing it. To be a safe place for people to be authentic we have to take down our guard and not judge others’ walk with Jesus. Only He knows what’s in the heart. We are all at different places in our walks with God. And years don’t matter. Some of the most mature christians I know are not old in age and haven’t been christians as long as others. And then there are those who have been christians for 40 years and are just babies in their growth. If someone around you is difficult to love and uncomfortable to be around, they need love all the more. The church has to be a place of acceptance and we just don’t have that reputation. We are seen as close minded and jugemental and with good reason. It feels all the more these days as we grow more angry and polarized. I want a place where all are welcome and not judged. Where we love people into a deeper relationship with Jesus and let Him work out those rough edges.

70 Pound Puppy

We adopted our dog five and half years ago as a rescue puppy. Her mom had been hit by a car and the puppies were rescued. Because they didn’t have a mother dog, they were not trained how to behave well. Apparently mother dogs do this. We were told she was a beagle/lab and we thought she would be about 45lbs full grown. When we got her she was a hyper puppy but I’d never had a puppy before so I assumed it was normal. Our vet suggested a dog trainer and three months after we got her when my mom moved in after almost dying of a septic urinary tract infection, we decided we should check into it. I didn’t have time to train a dog. So we signed her up for 1 week of intensive boarding training. Not cheap. Half way through the week they called us to come get her. She failed out of dog training because she was so hyper they felt she needed medication. I am apparently drawn to both kids and pets with special needs. So we got her some medication but it really didn’t help that much and my life got much busier with my mom’s needs and care. Riley became a mostly outdoor dog because we just couldn’t deal with her indoors. She would run crazy and had gotten very big very fast. Fast forward five years and I decided I would try to do some more training with her. We have done some things but really not much at all. So I brought her inside and quickly realize that while she is a bit calmer not that she is older (aka she’s basically like a normal hyper puppy now, not a normal 5 year old dog) she’s still got puppy habits. She pees on rugs, chews stuff, and runs around like crazy sometimes and jumps on people. None of that was fixed by her getting older. And now that she’s had five years of practicing bad habits they will be all that much harder to break. I’m working on it with all my free time, haha. It’s a slow process.

It got me thinking about emotional and spiritual maturity, because you cannot have spiritual maturity without emotional maturity. Sometimes we are physically mature but not emotionally mature. Do you know anyone like that? lol don’t name names. We are all like that really, but some more than others. Sometimes you have circumstances in your life that get you stuck in an emotional age. Like if you have some trauma that happened in you life as a child, that could get you stuck at that emotional age unless you intentionally deal with it and move past it. Or if you are fighting an addiction you can get stuck at whatever age you started the addiction. That is an interesting one because I know most people are thinking well “I’m not a drug addict or alcoholic”. Well that’s probably true but there are many types of addiction that aren’t so obvious. So many people are addicted to busyness, video games, shopping, or pornography to name a few. Yes those all count. You can become addicted to whatever you are using to escape or numb from negative emotions. So lets say you lose your job at age 25 and then you work hard and start your own business. You are successful and making money but you can’t stop working. You are driven to make more and more money and stay busy because you think that will prevent you from experiencing joblessness again. You are running from and numbing those negative feelings you didn’t process when you lost your job. We can easy slip into this. Then one day you look up and realize you are struggling with relationships in your life and you don’t know why. It could be because you have become consumed with running from emotions by staying busy or some other numbing technique. People can’t connect with someone who is emotionally unavailable and emotionally immature.

We can all be emotional children, teens or adults depending on our level of maturity and it has nothing to do with your age. If you want to know where you stand there is a test at https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/

It was very eye opening for me when I took it. I also highly recommend the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It has helped me on my own journey of becoming more emotionally mature. Over the past couple of years some things have led me to realize I was not really dealing with things well and my relationships were suffering. That led me to lots of introspection and taking stock of my habits in life. Some things weren’t healthy. I was numbing feelings and not dealing with emotions, positive or negative. See you can’t just numb negative emotions, slowly you begin to not feel anything at all, and that leads to becoming emotionally unavailable to others in your life. That’s extremely lonely for you and for others around you. You can be in the room with someone, but a million miles away.

So how do you start? I have done lots of reading including the book I mentioned. I have started counseling to deal with my past hurts and present ones and develop better relational skills. I am working on learning how to have a healthy relationships with others that aren’t codependent or avoidant. I’m learning to find my own voice in my relationships, my previous self would just defer to others all the time to avoid conflict. I’m learning conflict can be healthy if done well and it’s okay. (I REALLY hate conflict, enneagram 9) I’m learning about healthy self care, it’s balance between finding out what I really need and what Instagram tells you that you need. I’m learning to process emotions instead of stuffing them by walking, praying and journaling and then processing with other appropriate people who may have caused the emotion.

My dog would have been much easier to train when she was a puppy five years ago and my emotions would have also been much easier to deal with when they first occurred too. But it’s never too late to start today, training your 70 pound puppy.

A fear of Band-Aids

My two year old is scared of band aids. He will fuss and fight if you try to put a band aid on his boo boo. I thought it was kind of strange, most kids want band aids for the tiniest scratch, but not this kid. I mentioned it at the doctor’s office to the nurse who was pricking his finger for a test and she said her two year old is the same way. She said she thought it was because she associates the band aid with pain. It totally makes sense. Gavin doesn’t realize that the band aid is helping, instead he thinks it’s what is causing the boo boo to hurt. I think sometimes we are like that. Sometimes the thing that will ultimately help us, we reject because we think it’s making the pain worse. I see this with things like counseling. When I suggest people start counseling to help with their emotional pain they usually resist. They are too busy or it costs too much or it’s not convenient. What they are really saying is they are afraid of the counseling hurting more than the emotional pain they are experiencing. And it probably will at least at first.

Tomorrow I’m starting counseling again. I’m working through some things in my life and I realized I need to deal with some stuff in my past. I will confess I am not looking forward to it. Especially those first few sessions where you have to tell your story, it’s hard. It feels safer just leave all that stuff buried deep in my memory than to deal with any of it. But if I don’t, nothing changes. I will continue to deal with the same issues and have those issues effect others in my life. So many people who have experienced trauma in their lives think that they can just bury it and it won’t effect them anymore. It’s not true. There’s a term in mental health called “leakage”. It’s when those emotions that have been buried and tightly guarded suddenly leak out, usually in a stressful situation. In my own life this usually looks like me yelling at my kids when they get on my nerves. That’s my clue that I have stuff I need to deal with. We normally only allow leakage with those we love most, but it can happen in other situations.

Counseling is hard, but it’s like cleaning a wound. You can do nothing about a wound and it will eventually get infected and cause way more damage to those healthy parts around it. Or you can gently clean it and put a band aid on it and it will heal. Is it easier to pretend we don’t have a wound, or that was “all in the past”? Yes. But eventually that wound becomes infected and infects your whole life and those around you. You can never be your best self with old wounds. You will never trust people, just because of those who hurt you so deeply in the past. That will effect your relationships for the rest of your life if you don’t do the hard work of dealing with it. I am the first to admit I have trust issues. I am convinced people will leave me eventually, and I have good reasons from my past experiences to believe that. I have to work hard to dispel that belief and do some serious internal work to deal with it or I will never have close relationships. Some people think they prefer to be isolated and never trust, but that is no way to live. Its easier, until you go through something hard and you look around and no one is there. We are so quick to let people in to a certain point and then we throw up walls around our hearts. People can feel that. They back away slowly, and ironically their experience with you is that you aren’t safe. If you don’t trust others, how can they find you trustworthy? I can’t be a safe person for others if I refuse to be vulnerable with them. Vulnerability takes tremendous courage, especially if you have been deeply hurt. That doesn’t mean you share everything with everyone. We should be wise about whom we share with. There is an acronym that Brene Brown shares about trust that I will share here. It’s been tremendously helpful for me in learning how to trust and how to be trustworthy in relationships.

BOUNDARIES: Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not
okay, and why.
RELIABILITY: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware
of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to
deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
ACCOUNTABILITY: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
VAULT: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share.
I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me
any information about other people that should be confidential.
INTEGRITY: Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s
fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.
NONJUDGMENT: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We
can talk about how we feel without judgment.
GENEROSITY: Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions,
words, and actions of others.

Let’s not be afraid of band aids. They are here to help us get better. If we don’t choose to deal with our past and present issues they will just continue to cause problems in our relationships with others. If you don’t have any close relationships with people, you should ask yourself if you might have trauma in your life that you haven’t dealt with. Consider counseling to help deal with your issues. Be brave along with me.

Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a hot button term that you hear frequently these days, especially in religious circles. It means dismantling and examining ones beliefs in regards to faith and religion and deciding what one believes or does not believe regarding previously held beliefs. I have seen this in real life with people I know. Usually the story goes like this. Someone was brought up in a Christians tradition, typically one that was on the stricter side of religious, and they get into their late teens or twenties and begin to examine for themselves what they have been taught about religion and then what they themselves now believe or don’t believe. Frequently, this results in a walking away from organized religion, aka the church, or from religion all together. Increasingly young people are not identifying as having any type of religious affiliation, when in previous generations that was not the case.

I sat at the table with some friends and told them I was “deconstructing”. There was an awkward silence. I could tell I had shocked them. It’s a term that strikes fear in the heart of religious folks these days. I know they were thinking “oh my gosh, she’s lost her mind and she’s walking away from the faith”. Not the case. I would argue that deconstruction is healthy and if you haven’t done it, you should. I’ll admit it took me about 20 more years than most to get to this place. I grew up in a Christian family and went to church every Sunday and Wednesday my whole life. I went to college and immediately got involved with a parachurch organization. Then I started dating my husband and followed him to his church and we’ve been there ever since. In all that time I didn’t really question my beliefs or stop to examine them and why I believe them. If you take Jesus with you in your deconstruction it can be a healthy part of growth.

We’ve had some life shaking things the past few years with a stillbirth of our son, my mom’s illness and death, and the death of our daughter. Crisis like that will make you question things. And I have questioned the big things like Jesus and his role in all that. But I came to the conclusion that He is still God even if I don’t understand or like what happened. He is still good. He is still there. Me and Jesus are good. I believe the Bible to be true (albeit a mystery and open to interpretation) and all the basic tenants of Christianity, it’s the other stuff I’m not sure about. I heard someone use the term “bundling” to describe this other stuff. It’s like your cable bill. You get cable TV but you also get internet and phone bundled together. But what if I don’t want the phone or that many channels of TV, do I have to throw out the cable all together? Nope. Sometimes in Christianity we can bundle stuff. For example, in the past few years we have seen major division in Christian circles over in person vs virtual, mask vs. no mask, vaccine vs. no vax, republican vs. democrat and some of those things have been bundled together and adopted as a way of life. If you are republican than you must do all these other things or if you are democrat you must do all this opposite things. It’s bundled. I don’t want all the things. I don’t want to fall into one camp or the other. So I’m deconstructing.

Here are the questions I’m asking myself:

  1. What role should church play in politics? Do I even want to know who my church leaders voted for?Is it appropriate that I know that?
  2. What does the term “evangelical” mean historically and currently and do I really identify as such?
  3. What role do women play in the church? I grew up Baptist where there were very strict rules about women in ministry, do I believe that anymore? What is my role as a woman?
  4. What type of community should be in a church? How do we foster openness and community? How do we treat one another Biblically? Are we really doing that?
  5. How can church be integrated with psychology and emotional/mental health to provide a complete and open experience to deepen connections between people and facilitate real lasting change in a person’s life? Church has historically not been favorable to psychology or dealing with mental health issues. I am a strong believer that this is wrong and needs to be addressed. Some mental health issues need both prayer and counseling/medication to be properly dealt with and for to long we have shamed people dealing with these conditions by asserting they just aren’t “spiritual” enough.
  6. What role should church have in dealing with addictions in people’s lives? (Spoiler alert, we all have some form of numbing behavior that could grow into an addiction if not properly dealt with.) I think we don’t talk about this enough in church. Addiction is on the rise and people need help to deal with that.
  7. “We don’t talk about Bruno”. Church has been historically silent on some topics (sex and all the things that go with it, Pornography, LGBTQ matters and gender for example) and I think we need to change that. How do we address these topics in a healthy and more honest way? How do we respect people’s varying views on the these topics and provide a safe space for that?

And the list continues. These are all healthy questions and should be examined. Jesus wants us to deconstruct and examine our beliefs and get rid of unhealthy ones such as legalism and religion the leads people away from God. He challenged lots of religious people in the Bible to deconstruct their beliefs. After that deconstruction we must reconstruct what is left and move forward in a healthier way with church community. This is an uncomfortable process. It leads to examining my behavior and changing some things. Change is not comfortable for me or those around me sometimes. It challenges my relationships. But in the end I will emerge with deeper held beliefs and a deeper relationship with myself, God and others around me.

Boundaries

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work on boundaries recently. It’s such a hard subject and really difficult for me personally because I am an enneagram nine and tend to lean too much into over functioning and enmeshment. Over functioning is doing for someone else what they could be doing for themselves or getting overly involved in a situation to control it as a means of placating your own anxiety. I realize I have been over functioning in many areas of my life and so now it’s time to put in place some boundaries to help me begin to understand my place in relationships. When you over function, you prevent others from growing and maturing because they don’t have to, you are buffering them from hard things. Let me give an example.

I do the kids laundry. If I were over functioning I would not only do their laundry but also pick up dirty clothes from the floor and put the clothes away. Those are things they could be doing for themselves. So, I have put up a boundary. When it’s laundry day I expect the kids to have all their dirty laundry in the laundry hamper. I will only wash what is in the hamper. If they fail to put their clothes into the hamper and they are all over the floor, then they will not have clean clothes.

Boundaries are not to tell others what they can and cannot do, they are to tell others what you will and won’t do in response to their action or inaction. You cannot control what others do or don’t do, even kids. I cannot control whether my kids choose to put their dirty laundry in the hamper or not, but my boundary is that I don’t pick up dirty laundry off the floor. So, if they choose to not put their laundry in the hamper then I choose not to pick it up and therefore they don’t have clean laundry. It’s not punitive, just stating what I will and won’t do.

When it comes to over functioning I have realized that I have been overly involved in relationships around me as a way to prevent conflict. I try to help people see the other person’s perspective and work things out. This is okay to a point, if they asked for help, but when I insert myself into situations that they could work out for themselves then I’m over functioning. Then when they don’t do what I’ve suggested I get resentful and that’s not helping anyone. This happens in family situations and also with church people. Sometimes I can get too involved in church situations as a means to control the situation if I feel like it’s not going the way I would want it to. That’s over functioning. It’s gotten me to the place where I become resentful when people don’t take my advice. That’s not helping my relationships, so my boundary is I will not get as involved in situations that do not directly involve me. You can help people with situations, but then there is a point where you get too involved and can become resentful and hurt when things don’t go as you would like. I can particularly fall into this situation because I am a good listener and I enjoy listening and counseling people. Sometimes that can lead you to carry to much weight of people’s problems if you know them personally. This is why professional counselors do not counsel people they know. I get that now, I did not before.

Boundaries are hard particularly in dual relationships, which are relationships which exist on two levels. For example, you work with a friend and they are your boss. So you are both friends and boss/employee. That is a dual relationship. This happens frequently in small organizations and communities, but it’s a very hard line to balance. You have to be very mature to make it work and few people have that much emotional ability. So, you have to put up boundaries between where one relationships ends and the other begins, such as “we will not talk about our personal life at work”. This can become even messier at church. When you are friends and co-laborer for the kingdom, things can get messy. For some reason things become much more personal at church and feelings can get hurt easily if their is a disagreement. People tend to see disagreement in church as an attack instead of just a difference of opinion. We have to have differences of opinion to make a church work otherwise we are all just “yes” men and women and that helps no one. We have to put up boundaries and work together to find a solution without taking offense so easily with others. We have to be committed to quickly work things out between each other if there is misunderstanding and not let it fester into a real offense. Things can get toxic very quickly. I used to try to get in between situations where there were disagreements or differences of opinion, but that is over functioning. It comes from my need for everyone to get along and for there not to be conflict. I am putting up a boundary to step back and allow people to work things out for themselves or not to. If they choose to not step up and work things out between them they will part ways, but my involvement will only forestall the inevitable and keep them from using their own emotional skills. I can’t keep carrying that weight.

Some questions to think about with regard to over functioning and boudaries:

  1. Am I doing something for someone else that they could be doing for themselves?
  2. Am I resentful in a certain situation? could it be that I am over functioning in that situation?
  3. What boundaries could I put in place to help preserve myself and that relationship?
  4. Am I getting involved in situations to placate my own anxiety and try to take control?

Resentment

I heard a podcast on resentment today and it really hit home for me. I think it’s something so many of us deal with. Brene Brown defines resentment as “the feeling of frustration, judgment, anger, ‘better than,’ and/or hidden envy related to perceived unfairness or injustice” Resentment happens when we have expectations that we don’t communicate and are not met and we then harbor resentment against that person for not meeting our need. It can also come when we are asked to do something we don’t want to do or don’t agree with but we give in instead of saying no. Can I hear an Amen? Anyone else guilty of doing something you don’t really want to do because you don’t want to rock the boat? Or worse is we have been taught we aren’t allowed to say “no” because we must not upset others or that having our own opinions or wants are not allowed. This happens particularly to women. I feel like men are, on the whole, better at saying no, and allowed to say no more often without judgement. It also happens when you stuff down feelings of anger or hurt instead of dealing with them head on. It’s what I have heard called “toxic positivity”. We have been taught at times, particularly in Christian circles, that one needs to be positive all the time, don’t dwell on or even have negative emotions because that’s not Christlike. And so we stuff those down and don’t acknowledge them and it breeds resentment. We can have resentment against all types of people in our lives our spouses, kids, parents, friends, leaders and even God.

So how do you know when you have resentment? Here are some signs:

  1. clamming up: refusing to talk about an issue. (Guilty)
  2. using generalized statements like always or never. (Guilty)
  3. being passive aggressive. (it’s my spiritual gift)
  4. comparing a relationship to some else’s
  5. feeling hopeless about conflicts (guilty)
  6. focusing only on fairness
  7. complaining excessively
  8. explosive anger (yikes)

Some described resentment as leaking anger. I totally feel that. One tell for me is I get overly angry about stuff that is not important. Kids fail to run the dishwasher and then we have no clean dishes and I start yelling about people. The anger doesn’t match the situation. Then I have to look at myself and ask what my real issue is. Usually it’s resentment. In this example maybe I feel resentment because I feel like I always have to do everything around the house and as a result I need to better communicate my need for help. I have concluded that I have resentment because I fail to communicate boundaries or needs. I grew up thinking I shouldn’t have needs and that I should be independent. That’s unhealthy. I also think people should instinctively know what I need, particularly those closest to me and that’s unfair. So how do we fix this well of resentment?

  1. Choose discomfort over resentment. Practice setting boundaries and saying ‘no’. Don’t volunteer for something you don’t actually want to do or can do just because you feel like you should. No, is a complete sentence.
  2. Journal about your resentment. Let it all out. Write whatever comes to mind. Do it regularly.
  3. Break out of the norm. Take a break, go to a quiet place and allow yourself to break out of the routine of life to really sit and think about what is bothering you. Slow down and contemplate.
  4. Have hard conversations with those you love about your resentment and then do better about communicating needs or wants in the future.

I have not got this all figured out yet, quite the opposite. This feels like a overwhelming journey to me to dig into this well of mess of resentment. It’s scary and I don’t know what is all in there, but I do know it’s poisoning my relationships. It leaks out sometimes in anger or gossip. And really I’m only hurting myself by not dealing with it.

“If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.” Brene Brown

Something to contemplate today as you examine your feelings.

Whatever you are feeling…

Yesterday was 4 years since my mom passed away. In some ways that feels like a long time and in others just a minute ago. It has been said that there are six stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and finding meaning. When I first learned about these stages in my psych classes in college, I thought this was a linear process. You start with denial and move through them one by one to finding meaning and then that’s it. I thought grief was something to get through or something to endure until the process was over and then it was all better. Now that I’ve experienced some grief in the forms of loved ones passing and other losses, I know that this is not a linear process, it’s more like a spiral that you go around and around until you come out the other side. And there is no timeline. It could take months or years depending on the depth of loss and how you allow yourself to experience the grief or not. There are also other factors such as if a loved one has a prolonged illness then you can pregrieve their passing and go through some of these stages before they even pass away. This might make the process shorter after they pass or it could make it longer, depending on the situation. Grief is personal. It’s unique to each situation and person. We cannot compare grief. Two people can experience the same loss but experience it in different ways. And what I have found most recently, and I know this intellectually, but it always surprises me still, is that grief begats grief. When you are going through something that causes a grief response that can trigger you to go through old grief that is unresolved. For example, I’ve been to grief counseling three different times but each time I found I wasn’t processing my most recent loss but the one before it. When I went to counseling after we lost our stillborn son Andrew, I was processing adoption and raising special needs children grief. When I went to counseling after I lost my mom, I was processing Andrew’s loss and when I went to counseling after I lost Kaki, I was processing my mom’s loss. Then a year later I had to go back to counseling to deal with Kaki. Now I find myself grieving another situation in my life and my mom’s loss has hit me all over again. I think it is because losing a parent is such a earth shaking thing in ones life and also because It was just Mother’s day, and her date of passing and my birthday is coming up. It’s a time of year when I miss her more. She made every holiday special, even the seemingly insignificant ones, and I miss that. She was always there to listen to me when I was going through something, and I miss that.

I have also realized that one thing she didn’t teach me was how to be sad. In my house growing up being sad was not something we dwelled on. Anger was okay but sadness not so much. So when I find myself sad I am not sure how to process it. Sadness is a tough one for most people. Lots of people see it as weakness to be sad. Or like you need to go medicate that feeling away with something. We don’t understand how to sit with sadness. It’s a skill you have to learn. Back in the old days they used to have a room in your house called a Parlor. There was also one in the church. We still have them in some houses and churches but few of us actually know what they were for. When a family member died you would lay them out in the parlor for a few days and friends would come and pay their respects. But often the family members would sit in the parlor and go about life around their deceased family member. Sound morbid? It does now because we have institutionalized and sterilized death. We have put it in the basement of the hospital and in funeral homes so we don’t have to deal with it at all. I think it has stunted our ability to deal with sadness and loss. We deny it’s even happening and go on about our lives. We have even renamed this room in our house the “living room” as a way to overlook death and focus on life. Focusing on life is good but we need to get back to realizing that death exists and grief exists and we need to learn how to deal with it and stop medicating it away with our addictions. Addictions have grown exponentially with an estimated 20 million people in the US being addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many many more addicted to gambling, sex, food, video games, or other things. Most treatments programs that are successful not only deal with sobriety but primarily deal with teaching people how to handle their own emotions. How many people could we save from those addictions if we learned to handle emotions as children?

So, as I deal with some sadness over the loss of my mom I am learning to be okay with that. Some days I will be sad and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with being sad. Many people in the Christian tradition think that so called negative emotions such as sadness or anger are not okay. One should always feel joyful if they are following Jesus. That’s just not true. Jesus was angry and he showed it in the temple of all places. Jesus was sad when his friend Lazarus was dead, even though he knew he was going to bring him back to life shortly. Jesus was feeling intense emotion before the crucifixion, so much so he was sweating blood. Negative emotions are okay. They are meant to be felt, not stuffed down and self medicated. And so I will sit with my sadness and know that it is a reflection of my relationship with my mom and a life well lived. And I know I honor her as I sit with sadness or joy. Obviously if we have clinical signs of depression, that should be dealt with with medication and counseling, but I’m referring to just general grief and sadness. You cannot even be diagnosed with clinical depression if you have experienced a loss within the last six months, because sadness is expected and a normal part of the healing process. But as you learn to deal with sadness and all the emotions that come with grief, you may find that you are grieving very old losses that have not had a chance to be processed, and that’s okay and good. Emotions are called feelings because they are felt in your body as sensations and those can get trapped in your body and you carry them with you until you deal with them and release them or they manifest in physical issues such as pain or even heart attack and stroke.

Today I want you to know its healthy to feel whatever you are feeling. Sadness and anger are okay, joy and happiness are okay. Don’t be afraid to sit with whatever feelings you have, it brings healing.

Happy 18th Sam!

Today my oldest son turns 18! Today I am the parent of an adult! How did that happen?

It feels like just yesterday he was born. It was just the three of us. We had no idea how to be parents and he wasn’t the easiest baby, but we worked it out.

And then he became a big brother.

And again…..

And again….

And then a “little” brother….

And a big brother again….

And one more time….lol. He takes his job very seriously and they all look up to him and love him.

He’s stepping out into his future and I’m so proud. He’s been through some dark times. This pandemic and all it’s losses has been hard, but he’s grown so much and is doing the hard work of becoming the man God has called him to be.

Sam, today you are an adult. I couldn’t be prouder of you and all you are. I know without a doubt you will step into a bright future and be an amazing man. I can’t wait to have a front row seat to watch you walk down your path. Over the past few months we have begun the shift from you being our child to you being our fellow adult who we advise from time to time. It’s a hard shift for a parent, but you have made it easy. You are owning your choices and walking forward in the path you believe God has for you and we are thrilled to see that. We have complete confidence in your decisions and know you are following where God leads. This next chapter is full of you slowly leaving the life you have known all these years, but it’s also full of new beginnings and such exciting moments and we are cheering you on. We love you!! Happy Birthday!!