Vulnerability : The Art of Getting Real

I’m an expert at hiding how I feel. It comes naturally to me, and I honed the art to virtual perfection well into my 30’s.  It wasn’t until I had kids that I lost some of my skills, and came to realize how utterly poisonous a habit I’d been cultivating.  The slipping of my masks caused me some panic, as I thought the world would come crashing down around me if I cried in public, showed anger, or expressed fears.  Just a tad messed up I’m afraid!  Having kids ripped me open emotionally (not to mention physically) and I’ve done my best to keep my heart open so I can begin to relate honestly to the people around me.  I’m learning to be vulnerable.
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Mama never said it would be easy ...

It’s hard, this thing called life.  You think you have it running on auto-pilot for awhile, and it throws you a curve ball.  You solve one thing, and four more pop out their buds, showing you they’ve quietly been taking root for weeks.  The webs are tangled, the challenges deep.  It hurts, this relating and parenting and growing.  Anything worth doing hurts somehow though, doesn’t it?
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The Importance of Being Right

Watching the blowup and fallout over a guest post on one of my favorite blogs recently, something finally clicked in my mind.   It’s an idea a good friend of mine has been stressing for years.     It’s something that I sniffed at while listening to someone try desperately to prove his theological position last week.   It’s something I struggle with daily in my relationship to my oldest son.   It’s how badly we want to be RIGHT.

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Walking In Their Shoes

My 3-year-old came out of his bedroom last night, not long after he was put to bed.   His standard excuse of “needing to pee” was no surprise, but the hard-hat he was wearing had me utterly flummoxed.   As he trotted by I raised an eyebrow to my husband with a hushed “What’s the hat for?”   He whispered back that he’d suggested it to assuage the fears coming from the “ceiling might fall in some day because the crack over there is getting bigger” discussion that I’d faintly overheard at bedtime.  We live in an old house, older brothers ask lots of questions, and little brothers interpret them more dramatically.   I had to turn my head away to hide the shaking of my shoulders as I found the entire situation hilarious.   I wasn’t terribly sympathetic, I confess, just amused.
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Catalysts for Change : Embracing Devastating Opportunities

The horrors and devastation in Haiti last week are fresh in all of our minds.   The images, stories, and painful details continue to wash over us, prompting a variety of reactions and stirring up ideas and plans and projects.  I’m reminded once again of a quote by my friend Nate Burgos of DesignFeast, which he wrote a few years ago as part of a manifesto.  I’m reprinting it here again, along with a slightly modified reprint of the original article it went with. 

“Disasters make change. They particularly defined 2005, from the Asian Tsunami to Hurricane Katrina.  They galvanized attention and simultaneously provoked a drive for innovation, whose essential value is betterment …. Bottomline: They incite change.  What lessons are afforded by disasters to innovators?   This manifesto aims to provide these essential, and reoccurring, truths that contribute to the quality of not only things, but also people and places. Disasters displace, but what is never displaced is the need to make life better.  This need, whatever the scale and wherever the setting, is shared by all of us, who possess the power to innovate.”

The quote excites me for a very simple reason.   I adore change. Really.   But at times I have a very hard time getting over my own hang-ups to pursue it. 

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I was talking to a friend this morning, struggling to deal with the reality of finances and where we’re at right now.   It’s not a nice place, and I’ve been getting very depressed about it.  This time of year is always especially difficult, as my husband’s work inevitably dries up around November, and doesn’t kick in again till February or so.   We live hand-to-mouth pretty much all year, and have no credit because we can’t handle it, so the winter months tend to be faith-stretching.   I had a bit of a wrestle with God yesterday about it all.   Like I talked about rather abstractly last month, where the hell is my faith anyhow?
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The Faith Factor

Faith is a touchy subject.  It’s a deeply personal thing, and something that varies widely from one person to the next.  When push comes to shove, and you’re grasping for the reasons behind something that you can’t quite see, you find out where you’ve been hiding your faith.  What or who are you trusting?  The deluge of swine flu information got me thinking about it all a bit more than usual.  Who or what am I trusting with my family’s health?  How do I know I’m making the best choices?  What should I do?

 Faith has two main ingredients, with a twist.

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Knowing When It's Time

We’ve been making noises for over a year now about moving out of the city.   The desire is there, the vision is getting more concrete, and yet the ways and means aren’t visible yet.   It’s been long enough that when I run into friends I haven’t seen in awhile, they often ask “So how are the moving plans going?”   I find myself cringing internally, as I don’t really have a solid answer.   They feel like they’re going nowhere, at least in any ways I can talk about.   I don’t want to appear wishy-washy, but have to say something about “getting closer.”   We are closer to checking off our last major get-done-in-nyc dream, but it’s not quite that simple.

When is it time to leave that job?   To make that leap?   To get rid of that possession?   To take that chance? 

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Take a Deep Breath

It’s not optional!

Your kids can always take your breath away. It doesn’t matter whether they’re inside you squishing your lungs, stunning you with their beauty, scaring you with a fall, yelling hurtful things at you, saying they love you, announcing that they’re moving out, or calling to say they’re having a baby. They’ll always have that power to take your breath away, and it only goes to prove the strength and poignancy of the relationship.

Lately mine have taken my breath away most often by the required clenching of my jaw as I try to refrain from saying something I’ll regret.

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Love is hard. It’s a verb. It’s something we do, not just feel. Or say. I got to see a friend last weekend for the first time in several years, and she reminded me that listening with love was a whole different ballgame than just listening. Activate it with love, and you can hear what’s really being said. Or hear, period. Active listening, the kind where you give 100% attention to the speaker, and hear what’s not being said too, is a gift to anyone.

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Handling Criticism: How Thick is Your Skin?

I had the experience a few weeks ago of having someone decide to tell me a pile of things they thought I needed to hear, none of which were complementary or pleasant. I took it all in, asked for details, and fell apart a few times. It hurt. A lot. I trusted the source of the comments to tell me the truth, though I knew there was some exaggeration involved. I couldn’t throw everything out as being irrelevant, despite the method of delivery. I was raised to speak the truth, in love, and while this exchange was short on love, I didn’t want to miss the truth part.

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Viewing Points

Last Saturday I had one of those conversations with my husband that started out with tension and miscommunication, and ended with me feeling light, relaxed, and wishing we’d “talked it out” many months before! Ever have one of those? You have an issue that you’re struggling with, and get so focused on it that you lose sight of everything else.

Alas the issue was finances, and rather than quote the statistics on how many couples fight about money, I’ll just assume that you probably know what I’m talking about! We had become too focused on that aspect of our lives, and lost sight of who we really were, what we enjoyed about each other, and what we hoped to accomplish as a couple. One fruitful conversation, a new viewing point, and my whole outlook on life shifted in a moment. It was about time!

So how do you get a new viewing point?

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Viral Living

Lingering in a coffee shop awhile ago, I was soaking up a few rare minutes alone before picking up my boys. My wandering thoughts were interrupted by a sudden strident voice erupting to my right.  The man in the corner was addressing the girl sitting next to me, who was attempting to do the crossword.  "People are viruses! Just like viruses! You hang around them at all, and pretty soon you think like them, you talk like them, and you pick up their bad habits! It's just disgusting!" His unwilling audience offered a palliative reply, while remaining buried in her puzzle. I sat there a bit stunned by his vehemence.
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What 'time' do you live in?

I woke up the other morning to the sounds of my cat frantically crashing around the room, trying to jump up on his usual resting places and failing miserably. With his eyes darting wildly and his back legs suddenly useless, he was obviously seriously ill in some way. My stomach clenched into a ball, I started soothing him and my husband began Googling, while I imagined the house without him and how to tell the kids he was dying. I instantly prepped myself for the worst, just in case it should happen. His history of kidney problems and approaching 15th birthday were fair indicators, but I still jumped immediately into the feelings I’d experience should he not make it. I mourned, shed tears, and weighed burial options.
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Just-a-Jobs and Dreams

Talking to a girlfriend last month, I was reminded once again that planning shorter-term sacrifices for long-term gain was part of life. Living with an idealistic husband, on variable freelance incomes (in this economy!), it's easy to lose perspective and faith in God: two things I can't live without.

I have a dream. A big one perhaps, but I can taste it. It involves rolling forested land, hand-built cabins, a treehouse, a stone home, some animals, a big garden, water, weekend classes, and many visitors.
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Winterizing Your Heart

 The last month hasn't been an easy one for me. There have been no life-jarring events or great losses or even very squeaky pennies, I've just been in a muddle of wayward thoughts, wistful wishes, grey days, cold hands, and challenging kids. It's gotten to me, and is now very visible in my highly-reflective boys. They're great little mirrors, and it's awfully difficult to have your own bad attitude mirrored back at you (times two!). It finally dawned on me that I need to do a little winterizing, even if it's a bit late.

Not so long ago, winter was seen as a time to hunker down, live off the previous harvest, catch up on handwork and repairs, and even hibernate a little bit.

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Put It Out There

I'm often a slow learner, when it comes to anything to do with my heart or any of that "messy emotional stuff". I prefer not to talk about it, and focus on the easily "conquered" things like technical or logical things that are tangible. Feelings, dreams, ideas, all those things defy boxes or logic and because of that I label them "messy". I've slowly come to realize that not only is it a bad idea to be ignoring the un-boxable things, it's downright toxic. I need to Put It Out There, and let it be. It's my goal for 2009 to be more transparent, and not keep all feelings and reactions under wraps for fear of offending, hurting, or disappointing someone. Honesty can be painful, but it's far less painful than the alternative.
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The Power of Words

Words etch patterns in our hearts. Spoken, shared, sent out: power we forget we're wielding. "Would you like a hug?" My words surprise me sometimes, the ones I have to take in an extra gulp of air just to get out. A weeping stranger on the street. The right words, for once. Perfect. A gem in a pounding sea of words, babbling up on our shores. Overheard, read, conversed, reinforcing or changing the patterns shaping our hearts.
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Satisfaction : Got Yours?

Walking home from my run with a friend this morning, she surprised me with the statement "You probably have no idea how jealous I am of you sometimes." I was genuinely caught off guard, but a few more sentences gave me a view of my life, from her perspective, that made a lot of sense. My husband's irregular paycheck, our general lack of structure, and the subtle but constant pressure on me to contribute more financially to the household was desirable to her. She saw in my life the "edge" that was missing in her own beautiful but unsatisfying "cage." She missed the spark, even as I missed the predictable comfort. Dissatisfied. Restless. Hungry for something different.
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Scaredy Cats Anonymous

Had a good scare lately?  If not, you should!

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used a microphone in my life.  I shrivel up at the thought of speaking into one, and would rather change litter boxes all day than voluntarily give a speech to a crowd.  I did pick up a microphone this past weekend however, after agreeing to be a panelist and workshop leader at a WAHM Expo.  While the show didn’t quite turn out as promised (attendance was abysmally low) I did use that dreaded microphone, and am SO glad I did! 
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