Friday, April 04, 2014

The Uncelebrated Birthday

Most days I am fine.

I get up, walk RosieTheChippin, my breath exhaling in puffs in the cool morning air as the horizon blushes pink. I wait for her to go number two. I pick it up like a good neighbor. I come back, boil water for tea and make the omelet with spinach and goat cheese. I go to the gym and burn as many calories as I can on the elliptical while mouthing Katy Perry. I lift a few weights and wonder in the mirror if I'm doing it right. I come back and sit and stare at my computer and wait for the words to bubble up inside me, wait for the inspiration to hit.

I lazily fold the clothes on my bedroom floor in an effort to procrastinate. I download new apps on my iPhone. I check the weather. I water the plant I'm pretty sure might already be dead. I stalk someone on Facebook. I troll Zillow for my dream house. I think about my little loves in Uganda. I feel guilty about all those hand written cards I've been meaning to send to friends. Then I shop online at Amazon because the words are being stubborn. Some days I get 1,000 words out, only to delete half of them because I'm not sure they're any good.

I do, but I don't think about him.

Because to think about him is to stop and fall apart and most days there is no room for falling apart.

Because the words need writing, and the laundry needs doing, and the food cooking, and the emails require answers. Most days I walk around as normal as the next person. I go to REI and buy camping supplies, asking a million questions of the sales clerk about which tent is the easiest to assemble so I can prepare for spring in California. I end up spending way more money then I wanted to.

I go out to see friends at wine bars, promise I'll only stay for one and then, stay for two. I watch TV with my husband. I laugh at Ron on Parks and Recreation. I laugh. I laugh at my own corny jokes.

Most people will never know my little secret. There's some part of me always thinking of him. Wondering what he would have looked like, or if he would have had dimples like his father. Wondering if I'll ever get to be a mother again like I was for those too brief moments. Wondering why and not having any answers.

He would have been born in April. We would be celebrating his first year with a cake smashed face and dorky hats, and lots of videos for the grandparents. We would have dressed him up in a ridiculously cute outfit with a bow tie that he would have tried to squirm out of at every opportunity. There is a birthday that will never be celebrated.

I carry him like an old bullet wound, so familiar, on most days I don't remember the slight limp. Most days no one would ever know how much of my insides have been spooned out, how dark and lonely this cavern of loss.

We are really good at hiding things. 

We get angry instead of being vulnerable. We yell at bad drivers. We expect people to read our minds. We take a lot of vitamins in some kind of effort to control. We run a little too hard on the trails. We cry a little too hard at an action movie. We watch TV when we know we should be reading. We eat potato chips in bed. We make long to do lists. We stay home when we know we should call a friend. We switch tables in a restaurant when a kid is being too loud. We lie about how we're really feeling. We hate the girl in the grocery store next to us with the cute baby bump. We dress our dog up in silly little pink sweaters.

And when all that doesn't work, we swipe the snooze alarm and pull the covers over our head.

It is hard to feel. It is hard to tell the truth. It is hard to ask for what you need. It is hard to stop and think there might be someone else out there who is feeling the same way, and offer kindness, instead of retreating into the safety of our own rock of isolation.

It is hard to look into the eyes of God and let him hold you, when you don't understand why. 
Even harder to trust.

Most days I am fine. And for the days when I'm not, I'm learning to stop, be honest, feel it, ask for help, and let it go. Oh and I'm learning it's of no use to try and put on makeup.

I can cry my eyes out, swollen today. And sleep. There is always tomorrow.

(Oh, and puppies.)

**(To read more about my ectopic pregnancy go here.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Why I Quit My Life (And Started Over)

Last year, I didn't have any resolutions. 

After the devastating loss of my first pregnancy, saying goodbye to my Ugandan home, my dream, and the day to day management of the non-profit I'd built over the last seven years, to move from Africa to America, I think my resolution was merely "to survive."

I did this with an acute sense of lostness and an oozing red eye from pneumonia which I proceeded to get a week after leaving the Tropics. But I did choose a "theme" for the year. 2013 was the "year of health." It was my goal to become "healthy." This was more out of desperation rather than choice. I knew something was missing. 

I had begun to hate my own life. 

It had been a long road of saying yes to things that I felt I had to do, but didn't want to do, but that I was now responsible for. Sound familiar?

But I was afraid to have other people think I hated my life, so I put on a good front, like every good missionary/leader/wife/girl is supposed to do.

The fissures kept widening and every once in a while I would notice that without really paying attention, most nights I could throw back close to a bottle of wine by myself like it was a glass of water just to numb what I was feeling: mostly the burden of being completely overwhelmed, like I was drowning with an audience looking on from the shore. (A year ago I could not have admitted that.)

I wouldn't say I was depressed really, but an online questionnaire certainly seemed to think different.

When we are building something or are in service to others, looking outward, and experiencing many different levels of life's tragedies and endless emergencies, it's easy to stop focusing on ourselves or even thinking we matter in the equation because we're so focused on what everyone else needs from us.

We can get so focused on saving the world, that we often forget we need saving too. 

In the developing world people have lots of needs. Which is almost a disastrously perfect combination for the person who wants to meet needs. (like most missionaries/do gooders)

The being needed part in a sense became it's own reward, gratifying proof to the world that I was in fact, necessary.

Even in my time alone or with God, it was difficult to be present or connect because of all the ways I'd become separated and fragmented from myself because I had to in order to fulfill all the roles I felt responsible for.

My quiet moments were filled with desperation and a long list of things I needed: Money. Volunteers. More hours in the day.

In the beginning I had no idea how unhealthy I actually was. It was easy to make excuses for my constant sicknesses, or the feeling of being overwhelmed all the time, or my own ego's desire for a pat on the back, because I didn't feel I had any choices---people needed me and I couldn't let them down.

I couldn't see how I could stop. The show must go on.

It was easy for me to focus on our society's outward misrepresentation of success---changing the world, building a thriving ministry/business, becoming well-known and well-liked, rather than the true success of internal peace, whole-heartedness, and alignment with one's self.

When I tried to contemplate if God wanted me living my life this way--depleted, exhausted, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry, and feeling alone and abandoned--I chalked it up to the fact that ministry, and especially missions, requires sacrifice and that denial of myself, and my heart, and a life I actually wanted to live, was worth the price.

But all the wonder had gone out of my life.

I had neglected my spirit and my soul because I had stopped listening to them, had ignored what they needed.

I had told them to shut up and tossed them aside like an illegitimate child. 

There was a part of me that knew it wasn't supposed to be like this, that God hadn't designed me for this, but I didn't know how to change it. I was too afraid of the albatross,

"What will people think?" and "I don't want to let anyone down."

Instead, I would sit out on my little deck and cry out to God, "help." Expecting him to fix things and magically send people, without realizing that maybe it was up to me to make choices to fix things.

The breaking point for me came after a series of events which I now see as Divine Providence.

First, I did a course called Storyline by Donald Miller and realized that if I was truly honest, there was no way for me to meet my goals by the way I was currently running my life. I was constantly feeling like a failure because what I was asking of myself simply wasn't accomplishable in the time given to us every week on this planet. It was in fact, impossible.

And I wasn't actually getting to do the parts I loved. 

Secondly, I went to see an incredibly awesome, fearless, leadership coach who pretty much told me like it was. She taught me to listen to myself, and understand my personality type and what were healthy and unhealthy choices for me.

Thirdly, as part of an exercise with her, I emailed a bunch of friends a questionnaire to fill out about what they saw me doing when I was most happy. Another brave soul had the courage to say something which literally rocked my world:

"The truth is, I haven't seen you happy for a long time."

Ouch. Ok, so if that's not an invitation to change your life, I don't know what is. 

These "Ah Ha" moments were compounded by the fact that around that time we discovered I had fertility problems and that if I wanted to get pregnant I was going to have to radically de-stress my life and make myself a priority.

This felt wrong and selfish. And not very....Christian-like.

Lastly, I stumbled upon Brene` Brown's stunning book, The Gifts of Imperfection which sent me on a journey of self-compassion, and exploration of play and rest.

I knew choices had to be made. 

But I didn't want to make them. I felt trapped by the very net I had woven myself: people depended on me. It took lots of prayer, sobbing hysterically, some seriously gut-wrenching conversations, and several temper tantrums, but I knew the truth inside me, the truth I couldn't ignore.

I had to stop. 

Elizabeth Gilbert said,

"Everything good I've ever gotten in life, I only got because I gave something else up."

And I know this to be true.
It was not easy, this surrender to my truth.
It will almost always be the hardest thing you've had to do.

But somehow, slowly, I decided to say no. I decided to go part-time with my ministry, speak less, travel less, and gradually transition programs to a more manageable level, and those that I couldn't, I transitioned into the hands of other people who could do it better than me. And I stopped answering every email. Sorry.

In this whole culture of "Leaning In," I am finally putting my feet up and leaning back. I'm listening to myself, and in there somewhere, I find I'm listening to God too. And it feels good.

I'm learning if we don't take care of our soul, our spirit and our body, then we are not truly following God's commandment to love our neighbor "as we love ourselves." Sometimes we forget that last part.

The world can only change when we change. 

Several months in, I feel like a completely different person.

There are lots of trail runs and long walks, days reading by the pool, unhurried talks with God, writing the book that I've always wanted to write, dreaming about someday helping other leaders learn the lessons I've learned hopefully less painfully, and more time spent with my husband. And sure, maybe some people judge me.

But you know what?
I'm happy. I'm at peace within myself. And because of that, I have more to give.

Through rest, my creativity is resurfacing. 

But for now, I'm learning to steward it with the Divine being my only reference point of approval.

These days, there are other questions like, "Am I doing enough?" and other temptations to become busy again to feel more useful. But I hush them and tuck them away under the cover of this new peace.

This year, I did make resolutions and one of them was to put roots down in my own soil to see what would come up and flourish.

And it has made all the difference.