How to survive disappointment

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Writing is some lonely work. Lately, I’d rather clean wet dog food out of my turquoise Dyson than write. This could be because I’m in  a six-week writing class, to which I say bring on all the tasks I can’t force myself to do in my ‘real’ job.  Business card design, scrubbing a trashcan lined with bleachy foils and padded with six inches of hair,  prying hardened facial wax off from every surface in my studio with my pinky nail but do not, Do Not, force me to sit down on my new computer, bought for the purpose of writing in my writing class, and actually write.

A friend asked me this morning why I’m not writing and I’m ashamed to say I had some pretty lame answers mostly adding up  to I Don’t Know.  For the last couple of years I’ve been talking to a guy that I pay to help me keep my head on straight (if you don’t have one of those, I recommend you find one), he doesn’t accept the  answer  “I don’t know.’  “It’s lazy,” he says. “I don’t believe you, I think you do know.”  I give him money to frustrate me and help me unearth from deep within, my true beliefs, my core confessions, the things I tell myself in a steady stream of affirmation and degradation, more or less equal parts depending on the day.  The truth is that it sucks to wrestle with life and living and God.  No wait, that’s the politically correct, nice-girl, go-to answer, but it’s not necessarily the truth of what I feel.

The truth hiding behind my nice answer is that it sucks to not get what you desperately want.

Do you know the thing I’m talking about? That one last thing, if you could only clean up one teensy tiny little detail in your reality, one dream in your heart that still hasn’t found a home in the daylight. That thing that threatens to overshadow every other detail of your life.  That one.  It stinks not to get it, or rid yourself of it, or have it fixed, or even fix it yourself because not having to deal with that red-hot thing would make every other detail in your life, sunny and 65.

I have teenagers living in my house. Daily, they deal with answers they don’t like.  Boundaries they’d rather blow through.  In fact, yesterday it seemed as if one of them was willing to wire themselves to an electric fence, sacrificing their very life in attempt to make it to the other side of the lines I’d drawn.

It got ugly for a long bit. Hobby Lobby, Walgreens, the doctor, every mile in-between the tension was building and with each turn on the odometer, more opportunities were presented from this litigator.  They were waiting for me to step off my game and give them the argument they wanted.  This one has been a student of my weakness since their birth.

While the fury was still blazing in my van yesterday, I found myself identifying with the fuming kid in the passenger seat.

As a compliant child  growing up, the reason I didn’t break rules was because I was terrified of the consequences.  Early on, I found that my missteps resulted in swift and sometimes disproportionate reactions and the over correction isolated me.  It came with intense emotion and unintended separation.  The sad thing is that the desired outcome, character strength, backfired and resulted in shame.  I still dance with some of these same tendencies, but I’ve grown as a parent and more importantly, as a living breathing soul, a human being, so scenes with my kids mostly don’t trigger me like they used to.   But  I remembered what it feels like to be the chid.

When the worst of it was over, I sat in the car alone for a few minutes processing my own emotions.  I’m not gonna lie, when the kid told me I was “the worst most controlling mother ever” followed by a few direct accusations, shame threatened to creep back in.  Every day it’s a struggle to keep that emotion from paralyzing me but  I realized that I had remained calm, connected and unswayed during the entire scene.  Sadly, this hasn’t always been the case.

It’s a price we have to pay as parents, a denial to indulge our emotions.  We have to sacrifice our own childishness.  I’m the grown-up  and though I’m in control of many aspects of my life, I can identify with this kid, more than they have any idea.  I’m smacking up against a hard wall that I’d expected would be demolished by now.  It’s my one thing. and believe me, I’ve taken a jack hammer and tried to smash it, gathered grime under my fingernails as I clawed at it.  I’ve even whittled my own shiv and tried to tunnel my way through solid concrete one teaspoon of dust at a time.  I’ve begged and bargained thinking that one of these days, God would take care of it once and for all.   For as long as I can remember, I’ve expected a ‘save the day’ sort of moment.  Like Ronald Reagan, eyes burrowing into  the camera, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” I’ve been staring straight into the hole of heaven trying to work a deal.

In my twenties, I was sure there didn’t have to be a wall in my life.  I had decided that I’d do life right the first time.   What I learned was that doing it right the first time is a myth.  I used to believe that God had a ‘best’ for our lives. I don’t believe that any more.  I believe that we live in such a messed up world and we’re presented with hundreds of choices every day. God has a lot of things he says about how we should live but he also gives us opportunities with absolutely no right answer.  More, in fact, than I’d ever imagined.  As a result, I’ve realized that life is more about becoming truthful to who we’ve been created to be than it is about doing the right thing. We can do the right thing and not be completely ourselves but we cannot be completely ourselves and not do the right thing.

If I tried to do it right fresh into adulthood, I decided in my thirties I would simply fix everything that was wrong.  Rebuild what was broken.  Replace what didn’t function.  I restarted and redoubled and recounted and recalled and relayed.  All strategies and techniques I unearthed in order to keep my disappointing wall from becoming my future.

Then, I turned forty and you know what I found out?  Every single one of us have the same wall.  I call mine disappointment but you might call yours anxiety.  Mine is something I live with but yours might be something you live without.  Mine might be bigger than yours but maybe someday yours will get knocked down.  Maybe there’s a new wall behind it.  In fact, I think you can count on it.

I’ve put a fight in my forties, digging through another layer of unhealthy thinking and working hard to get to truthful layers of myself.  There’s a reason we’re told  it requires pain and suffering to work out our salvation. Choosing to think true thoughts can feel like a full-time job and living in a way that reflects the truth of my soul requires overtime.  Because as I’ve stood within the ugliest parts of myself and begun to do the hard work of digging out, I’ve realized that my life’s work is dismantling the wall within my own soul.  Just last week, I asked another friend just how holy  is a body supposed to become down here.  I was angry about my disappointment and what feels like a near-constant struggle to navigate around it.  As I was throwing the equivalent of a teenage tantrum, I heard God within myself…..

Holier than you were yesterday.

More broken than you were yesterday.

More healed than you were yesterday.

More loving than you were yesterday.

More forgiving than you were yesterday.

More honest than you were yesterday.

 

Because I said so

In this space of electronic invisibility,  I’m looking for the place I fit in this world, maybe not so different than the refugees landing on all sorts of shores this week.

Learning to find a voice. My voice.

NT Wright refers to the voice within us that cries for justice and beauty, the echo of a voice.  He’s referring to the voice of our Creator resonating within each of us,

individually,

collectively,

simultaneously.

Sometimes, I still think the voice I hear is my own and try to silence it’s call to greatness. But the call to join with something bigger than myself, something higher, the call to greatness being birthed in me isn’t a vain desire to make a name for myself, though vanity whispers to us all.

This mandate with which we have all been created, to reflect the one who created us, when we follow the holy echo of that call, something beautiful and intricately unique happens inside us.

We discover our own voice.

It’s challenging for me to leave out qualifiers in my writing but  I’m learning.

I remember a time in the middle of my fourth decade.  My children were small and I was working out by process of elimination, what kind of parent I wanted to become. At the same time, my paradigm of faith was shifting and every last plank in the floorboard of my relationships had started to warp around the edges.

In those exhausting lonely days, there wasn’t much of anything I knew for sure.

I believed God was interested in every area of my life and loved me in  a way I couldn’t begin to feel yet; I also believed, knew actually, that my children needed so much more than I was equipped to give them.

The majority of statements I made in those days were cushioned with qualifiers.

I don’t really know but…..

I think…..or it seems to me…….

I wonder if you might ever consider…..

It’s only my opinion…..

To complicate that mess more was the fact that I was sure I had the answer to any question asked in the course of ever.

(Interestingly enough, at this same time, I was working hard to please and placate people for whom I would never be enough and ignoring relationships with the ones for whom I am everything at this point, my children.)

If you happened to be one of those who listened to my rambling  nonsense please accept my deepest apology for nothing specifically and everything in general.  I wanted you to think I knew it all but was insecure enough to think that who you were, what you were created to do and be in this life posed a direct threat to who I was. As if of our existences were mutually exclusive.

I didn’t know it yet, but  I was qualifying my  existence to my own self.  I desperately wanted my outside ‘knows’ to match up with the ancient echo in my soul and I didn’t understand yet that the eternity set in my heart could never be explained by what I knew, or what I could point to, or what I could read, or what I could convince you of.

And also?   I wanted you to nod your head and tell me…

Yes, I know.

Yes, I understand you.

Yes I see you.

Yes, you are something, someone unique and you have your very own voice.  

When I hear hashtags of  qualifiers today, I recognize my thirty-something self and feel so much compassion for both the person I’m speaking with and that poor girl inside me who was such a mess. On my better days, I practice showing them with the compassion that I wish I’d had for my own self back then.

As I learn  to say big-girl words with no qualifiers here, with you, I’m feeling stronger and safer.  I’m finding new confidence in understanding Truth both inside myself and in the world simply because I said so.

Maybe you are too.

When you’re ready to give up, do this first.

My sink needed caution tape.  There was a lasagna pan filled with cold water, a few rogue noodles floating, one corner black from a re-warm.

sponges and sticking to it

Hardcore life before 8 a.m. for sure, but last night we were determined to make progress on a puzzle manufactured by sadists, so the pan spent a dark, wet night in the sink.

The  Kitchen Fairy skipped our house (something about working conditions) so I scrubbed the cold, slimy mess while I talked myself though.

Fire up the hot water,  we can melt it off.  Hot water negative,  noodles holding on for dear life.

Switch to scrapers.  But the gunk left on the end of the dish scrubber!!

Better gunk on hard plastic than grease filling up the sponge.  I think I’ll let it soak a while longer, finish after I pay the bills.  

You’re almost done now, keep moving. Shower door tracks win hands down over gross pans.

But you’re almost  D.O.N.E!  I can’t do this anymore, too.much.blackened.noodle.slime.

Don’t Stop Now, you can handle this!  I just want it clean.

Switch to manual sponges.  But they’re gross!!!!

Target is locked and loaded, steady now, you’re almost done. Switching to manual spongeesssss.

There’s something about dirty pans and slimy showers that bring out the quitter in me.  You’d think that  I would have learned by now to flip the autopilot switch and just do the junk of life without a whole lot of fuss but for whatever reason, I don’t.

I listen to the whiny baby inside my head  far too long before I actually get down to it and do the gross work.

Really, for the amount of time I whine in my head about  something, I could have finished it and three more disgusting jobs.  I mentally quit before I even start and  have to put all my energy into self-talk just to break even.

It’s one of the things I’m constantly working on.  When it comes to toughing out the rough things in life, finances, relationships, even sometimes faith, I’m usually committed but not before I’ve thrown a fit-fest sure to out-fit the most expressive three year old.

There are relationships that are difficult for me right now, a whole group of them.

I’ve been putting some healthier ways of relating into practice over the last couple of years but there’s some baked-on junk still sticking to the sides and I’m over it.  It’s taken a lot of strategic work to remove bad habits I developed mostly because my relationships were rooted in different kinds of fear.   But finally, I hope, the majority of my thinking and relating is more healthy than not and so it doesn’t surprise me that I’m have to work a little harder to keep myself motivated these days.

I think that’s how the disciples felt in Luke 5.  They’d been fishing all night with nothing but grimy gunk caught in their nets and they were over it.  Hungry.  Ready to hang up their nets and order take-out.  Their feet were cold, hands were dirty and stomachs were growling and I’m quite certain they were on each other’s last nerve.  The lasagna pan had more baked-on crud than they could handle and the thought of switching to sponges was just too much. They were ready to call it a night,  go home.

And then Jesus.

They dropped their nets one more time at his command.  I imagine a collective eye-roll as it sunk.

Their job was simply to do what he said, even if it was something they’d done a hundred times before.  It wasn’t like he gave them a new idea, he just simply added his authority to their process.  If they would’ve quit , they would have missed out on a miracle that would fuel their faith for the rest of their lives.

I need that authority and that kind of power to sludge through right now, and I’m sure you do too.

Whatever you’ve got going on today, and however sick you are of dealing with a mess that just won’t seem to come clean, stick with the honest work believing that at some point, Jesus will add his power to it. When we finally come to the end of ourselves….again, what happens next can be powerful.

The list of not-quite-finished in my life is long, but I’m switching to sponges.