7.05.2016

Mid-Year Resolutions, Self-Acceptance, and Why Facebook Doesn't Count as Reading

We sat in the cafe, and over coffee and piping hot breakfast sandwiches, my  friend and I discussed life. More specifically, we talked about the scarcity of absurdly honest moments. Those times when you put aside the social filter of decent, polite conversation and share what's really on your mind.

She thanked me for such a moment, and I replied that I think becoming a mom gave me less shame about my frailties. It's the combination of years of little and/or interrupted sleep, a constant feeling of inadequacy, and finally getting the fact that no one is thinking about me nearly as much as I think they are. It's the real potion that serves as social lubricant. I just can't care to be judged for my truth any more. It's glorious, and I'd revel in it more if I weren't so tired all the time.

I also mentioned my one, lone New Years resolution. I promised to stop trying to fix myself all the time and just embrace my messy existence. Taking myself as is.

That was January. It's now July. I promised you that I'd check in.

So far, so good. Or rather, so far, holy cow, how long have I been this weird?

See, I ran into a few detours on the road to self-acceptance. I realized that half of the time I'm juggling two polar opposite ideas about myself.

Do you do this too? You love Facebook, but scrolling through your feed feels like a waste of time? You really want to be fit, but you don't exercise or eat right? Have you been "writing" your novel for more than three years? This is what I mean. I often want two things that cannot co-exist.

Case in point. As a kid, I was an avid reader. I loved fiction. I devoured stacks of library books. As an adult, I'd still say that I love to read, although I'd be hard pressed to mention a recently read title that was not required for school. Everything seemed more important than reading. And when I was through with all those important things, all I had left in me wanted to veg out in front of Netflix.

I had to make a choice. I stole away for a season in between dissertation revisions and went back to the library. The first novel, I could barely get through. It was dry and it reminded me why I stopped reading fiction in the first place. I figured I needed a book that I knew would hook me. Maybe something of which I'd already seen on the big screen. Something that was really popular. I love suspense. A good thriller would do the trick, and it did.

I read Gone Girl in a week (which for a stay-at-home mom with a toddler is fast). Then, I read Girl on the Train in five days. Then Her; Nobody is Ever Missing; The Dinner; Summer House with a Swimming Pool.... It kept going. I was back to my avid reader self. I always had a book in my purse. I started my daughter on longer bedtime stories (we're almost finished with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... which, by the way, if you think your art is too weird to be accepted by the masses, this is for you).

Reading led to writing. I blew the digital dust off a few old projects. And, as you can see here, I found time to blog again. Suddenly, I found all kinds of time for those things that made me feel like me. Accepting who I am got easier when I remembered who I was.

Of course, the take-away to all of this is that the things you really enjoy (I mean, the stuff that has a real payoff) require that nasty six-letter word: effort. You have to be intentional about the worthwhile stuff  or else the rest of life will crowd it out. Make time. Re-prioritize.  And for heaven's sake, simplify.

And I'm not saying that social media and Hulu binges don't feed you, because you wouldn't do them if they didn't. But there's fast food and then there's prime rib. Those activities that cost you a little something have bigger rewards and are far more satisfying.

I'm now in the middle of at least three books, and I'm editing an old novel that I'd like to see finished before I die. I feel like a kid with library books scattered around the house. I dig this sweet spot for however long it will last. It kinda feels good to be me.

So, I can't leave you without an exhortation of sorts. I hope the mid-point of 2016 finds you embracing your truest self. Not just doing what passes the time, but really engaging in what makes you fully alive.

~jennifer.

4.04.2016

To Risk, To Fail, To Show Up Anyway

"But what if it ends badly?"

I wrote this line in my journal earlier this morning. It's not the first time. I ask myself this question regarding just about everything, whether it's a major life move or making a phone call.

I'm a thinker, a planner. There is no worst case scenario I can't connect to a seemingly harmless everyday routine. Before I do anything, I've already calculated the 30 different ways it could go wrong. It's a wonder I leave the house some days.

I wish I could tell you why I'm like this, but I can't dig up a reason. In the Meyers-Briggs world, I'm an INTJ and that explains some of it. But, really, I don't know. Somewhere along the line, I just found it beneficial to make sure I was mentally prepared for anything.

Of course, I'm aware this is faulty thinking, but I'm not here to bash myself. We're doing the self-acceptance thing this year. Being overly cautious has probably saved my life more times than I'm aware.

That said, it can get stifling, because it's not the sum of who I am. For every time that I've sat on the edge of something great and said, "Nope," there's another moment when I jumped right in. I've been silent, and again I've been really loud. Buried underneath  my schedules and 5-year plans is an adventurer just dying to run free.

Finding the sweet spot between the wisdom and the wild is the key. When do you sit one out? When do you go all in?

I don't have answers for that. Nor do I have an answer for what to do if you fall flat on your face. We all know risks don't pan out all the time. So many earnest endeavors fail... even when we tried our best.

That's most likely where my caution comes from. The past. Those years I engaged fully and it fell apart. The times I was misunderstood. That day I vowed I'd think twice before opening up again.

There's something to learning from our mistakes, sure. But what kind of life can you hope for thinking everything you build will burn to the ground? You wouldn't begin anything. Yeesh, you'd barely be alive.

Things end badly all the time. Yet, something beautiful happens long before that usually. We connect with each other. We engage with our surroundings. More often than not, we discover parts of ourselves we never knew existed.

Is it worth the fall? I can't gauge that from here. But it's almost always worth the journey: for the lessons learned and for the growth. We are so rarely made up of the days we stayed inside or closed our minds. The most interesting parts of you probably came from the risks that you took.

Sounds like I'm psyching myself up to do something, right? Nope. It's just  reconfirming the adventure I'm on every day. To be a parent. To be an active member of my community. To love the husband who equally fits and shapes me. To show up for my life.

So, yes I did scribble that question in my journal. But I quickly followed it with this: "That's never an excuse not to try."

~jennifer.

3.03.2016

About Being the New Girl and How I'm No Brenda Walsh

So, I've written a lot about this recent move--about experiencing the last of things, looking to the future, and such. What occupies my thoughts these days is the sensation of being "the new girl."

This was not my senior portrait..
I haven't felt this way since I was 16 and moved semi-cross country to a new state, new neighborhood, and new school. My experience was... meh. Needless to say, 90210 lied to us. In a few months time, I was certainly not hanging with the popular girls, getting courted by the hottest guy in school, and hey, where was my Peach Pit hang out? Yeah, I was no Brenda Walsh. It went about as well as you'd expect in real life. I fumbled through loneliness for a couple of years until I graduated and started a far more social life in college.

Good news is, being the new girl is much better this time around. Twenty-two years later, I am not on this adventure alone. I have two of the best extroverts I know by my side: my husband and my daughter. Both have never met a stranger, and they connect with ease. My husband introduced me to the people he already knew here over the years prior to our arrival, so when I landed, there was a community waiting (who, by the way, have been amazingly open and embracing). And my daughter ushered me into a new universe called "Mommy-land" where I'm constantly and pleasantly surprised how much I have in common with other women simply because we are parents.

So what's my deal? I am in the jackpot of all "new girl" situations. I should have no complaints, and truly, I don't.

The deal is, though, somewhere inside, I'm still that insecure 16-year-old girl at lunch period scanning the room for someone to eat with.

I meet people and obsess over whether they like me. I ask myself, am I making a good impression? Are any of my jokes landing? Even in this situation where people are openly warm and receiving, I'm still self-conscious that I'll say something stupid and ruin it all. Seriously, I may look normal, but I'm an Anxiety Cat meme on the inside.

See, being comfortable in your own skin takes on a whole different meaning when making friends. You want to be liked. You want them to think you're cool. Because nobody wants to eat lunch alone (well, actually, as an introvert, yes, sometimes you do, but not all the time). 

And at my age, I'm too old to pretend to be someone I'm not. So, what you're getting is pretty spot on. I'm funny and awkward. I'm reserved, but kind. I suck at small talk. When I ask you questions, I really listen to you, because I want to know you. There's also a good chance that my poor short-term memory is due to knowing way too many popular song lyrics.

Let it be said, I know I am loved. I belong to God. My husband adores me. My daughter thinks I'm her butler. My family both near and far are close to my heart, and I know my friends across the country have not forgotten me. I'm not sixteen any more (praise the Lord).

So, I muster up my courage and show up in my new community. I graciously accept social outings and extend those invitations as well. I'll be a friend and see what happens. Like I said before, the tribe doesn't form over night, but this is how it begins.

~jennifer.

1.28.2016

Perspectives on the Long Haul

That's possibly the most unsexy title that I ever wrote, but I've been saying that phrase a lot lately.

"If we're in this for the long haul..."

"If we plan on staying..."

For once, I'm on a visible timeline. As Lenny Kravitz once sang, "I'm old enough to see behind me." I can now see just how long it takes for certain things to become as they are (or as I'd like them to be).

My good friends started out as roommates or friends of friends who I timidly exchanged numbers with. Man, some people I talk to every day spent years as just acquaintances.

The jobs that I loved and in which I felt comfortable and capable at first were nervous first days.

And every church that I ever called home was once a casual Sunday here and there where I mostly avoided small talk with people I didn't know.

Things change after a while. They grow. They bloom. But everything, for the most part, starts very small.

That's why I'm constantly telling my husband and myself about the long haul. Because when you see things on a long enough timeline, you understand that the good, comfortable stage of any relationship, job, or home address doesn't happen suddenly. It doesn't even happen in two or three months. You need to see years roll by some times before you really settle into something. So, yeah, if you're in it for the long haul...

It just takes the pressure off, you know? For example, right now, I can be okay with getting to know people slowly. The Melissa's, the Karen's, the Hannah's, the Crista's, the Jen's, and every one else in the tribe... yeah, those don't happen instantly in most cases. So, I can relax that I just have three or so local numbers in my phone and a few social outings on the calendar.

This perspective also helps me  manage my expectations. I don't have to know my way around town plus six alternate routes right now. I rarely realize it's trash day until the truck drives by. It's certainly not possible for me to have a favorite restaurant yet. Just because some things used to be second nature before doesn't mean they have to be now (and doesn't mean they won't be again one day).

Another thing this perspective does is slow me down. I tend to rush. I think everything could be done faster. Fix it and fix it now could be my motto. But one doesn't get that luxury being new in town. I must have patience. I have to wait. Not necessarily be idle, but stop forcing what I want, when I want it. Granted, I've never been remarkable at this, but here's an opportunity to give it another whirl.

One day, it will be hard to imagine that I didn't always live here. For my daughter, who's not even two yet, this is the only home she'll ever really know. This will all become old hat one day. So, I'm not in a rush to build a makeshift life like the one I had. I can make friends and grow roots in my community one day at a time. Because, after all, if we're in this for the long haul...

~jennifer.

1.07.2016

Resolutions, Grace, and Acceptance As Is

I had a great blog series planned for the first of the year. It was going to be all about getting yourself together. We were going to make resolutions for fitness, wellness, and taking care of all those little things that we keep putting off.

Again. Things changed.

In Need of Grace
See, I am a resolution addict. I love New Years, because it's my official do-over. I make lots of resolutions and self declarations. I keep many of them. If my resolution list is 10, by December, I've probably nailed 7. Most of all, I enjoy bettering myself. It's a habit.

However, this New Years finds me already in the midst of major risk and change. We moved, and in this analogy of a leap of faith, we are very much still in the air. Not to mention that motherhood feels like an ongoing pop quiz that I didn't study for.

As I held my daughter tonight after her bath, mentally preparing for her bedtime meltdown, something just dropped in my spirit. "What if, this year, no resolutions? No big changes. No big endeavors. Just you accepting you. As is."

How radical.

This year, I want to lighten my load rather than pile on. I don't need to learn a new skill. I need to hone what I already know. Plus, like many, I am hard on myself. Some grace for my fat and personality quirks would be nice.

Now, I have not abandoned all efforts for self-care. I'm running again. I almost consider pregnancy and the first year of infancy as a break. Running is always in my bones. I'm also keeping up with counseling in my new town, because everyone needs someone to talk to (it's just that some of us need a professional).

Everything is a continuance of what already was. Except for the self-acceptance. That's new. I'll tell you how it goes come December.

~jennifer.

12.25.2015

The Last of Things

I'm an oddly sentimental person. If it weren't for moving, I would have a garage full of stuff. But I don't see it as stuff. It's memories.

I still have my first student ID from college. I have my first diary. I hold on to things that at one point meant something to me, even if, their usefulness expired.

I naturally horde moments as well. Whenever I'm in transition, I try to hold on to even the intangible things. My life now is a perfect example.

We've lived a long time in Virginia, but we're making our way to a permanent location in Florida. We left, came back for the holidays, but now we're getting ready to go back... this time, for good. I'm not entirely sure when we'll be back in Virginia again. So, naturally, I'm very cognizant of what I call "the last of things."

I turned off the television in my in-laws' family room thinking, 'Last time I'll do that for while.' We said goodbye to friends, and I hugged them wondering if, for some, it would be the last time. Even as I type out this blog, I'm feeling my fingers on these keys and thinking that it will be months before I sit here again. I went through versions of this over and over again in my mind with everything.

Leaving things behind, even if it's just their commonplace appearance, comes with mixed feelings. It's a death in a sense. Consider friends and family. Sure, we have a multitude of communication tools thanks to the Internet and digital technology. However, I mourn the loss of closeness. Knowing certain people are no longer within an arm's reach or a day's drive is a loss. I feel the gap.

At the same time, I'm very excited about our future. I love our home in the Sunshine State. I'm meeting new people and doing new things that don't make me hate doing those things. It's constantly interesting.

Like I said to a friend today, I got some feelings about this.

The old phrase goes, "Change is good." I think that wisdom still circulates, because it's necessary. Change has to be good, because change is inevitable. I don't care how long you've been the way you've been, whether it's your job, house, friends, health, etc. Something will change in your life, and if you're lucky, you'll be presented with the opportunity to recognize the last of things. It's a small part of the process. You get to imagine the future, mourn the past, and embrace the present all at once. And in case you didn't know, I'm here to tell you that how you feel about it is okay. You can sulk, cry, smile, laugh...actually, a combination of all four is preferred.

Because it's sadness and joy; a twinge of pain and a flood of butterflies. It meets in the middle as a jumbled-up, somewhat unrecognizable mix. It's a good thing. It's healthy.

So, I'm going to enjoy the last of things, even if it's as simple as tapping away on this keyboard. I can take a moment to honor what I'll miss, what I have, and what's ahead. I hope you can too.

~jennifer.

12.22.2015

Mondays, Bad Guys, and This Business of Forgiveness

I had a nice blog for you today. It was very inspiring and full of Christmas cheer. It was ready to get you all in the holiday spirit.

Then, Monday happened....

Has Monday ever happened to you? Not the day, but the incident. It's like getting bad news over the phone. It's a bill in the mail. Or, as in our case, it was the dashed hope that a longstanding issue would finally get resolved.

Ug. I already mentioned about our "Summer of Discontent" and how it altered our lives. Most of it, we just had to deal with, but another part turned into an ongoing battle. It was stressful, and just when we thought the end was near... Like I said, Monday. Now, all those feelings from the summer waved back over me. I expressed a similar sentiment that I said before.

"It feels like the bad guys are winning."

We all have those moments where it seems like we did the right thing, someone else did the wrong thing, but we end up getting screwed. Doing good and not seeing the reward sucks by itself, but adding an antagonist to the mix who appears to "get away with it" makes the matter infuriating. Where's the fairness? Where's the justice? Where's a super hero to come save the day?

Back to that blog. I didn't publish it, because I instantly felt like a hypocrite. Here I am, telling you to find joy in the Christmas season, yet, at the same time, I'm stockpiling bitterness. It was time to pause. So, rather than absent-mindedly peddle inspiration, I did a little work on me first. Maybe a few of these thoughts could help you too.

First, in the face of Monday, I got moving. I was already serious about getting back in marathon shape, but this workout session had some fire to it. Indignation is quite an energy boost, in case you didn't know. I was stronger than ever. And then, wouldn't you know it, that energy burned off like a rocket, and I was left with some of those bad feelings broken off in the atmosphere.

Second, I talked it out. As soon as I got the news, I texted, emailed, Whats App messaged, and Snapchatted everyone who knew our situation. You know, sympathy can never be overrated. Some times you just need someone with whom you can commiserate. A simple, "Man, that's rough. I'm sorry" can go a long way. It always does for me.

Third, there are no bad guys and good guys. It seems that way, but human beings are far more complicated than that. The person I vilify is somebody's best friend. Someone I consider a saint is probably a holy terror to anyone else. Perspective changes everything. Not to mention that we battle people in seasons. Maybe this season they are desperate and crazy. Perhaps if we'd met at different times in our lives, none of this would have happened. Who knows? All I know is that I alleviate a lot of pressure when I stop with the binary fairy tale roles and see people as they are: flawed and human, just like me.

Lastly, there's this business of forgiveness. Doesn't it always come down to that? We don't get the privilege of living happy, well-adjuststed lives and holding on to grudges at the same time. It just doesn't work like that. At a certain point, we have to forgive those who wrong us. Forgiveness can look like a lot of different things, but it almost always includes letting go of the way we want things to be. It's not easy, but it's necessary.

But what about fairness and justice, you ask... First of all, there's no such thing as fairness. Let's get that off the table. It's completely subjective. Secondly, justice works independently of us all. Some call it karma. Others call it universal law. I quote Galatians 6:7. If you sow it, you reap it. So, believing that we are somehow responsible for someone else's comeuppance is foolish. It's not our job.

As I write this, Monday draws to a close. I'm still not particularly happy with today, but I'm probably better for it. I was provided with another opportunity to resist becoming embittered towards things and people that I can't control.

So, what about you? What was your Monday like? Better yet, who's the bad guy in your story? Let me encourage you to find your own path towards forgiveness. Whatever it looks like, go after it. It won't be comfortable, but it's better than feeling despair and it's certainly a lighter load to carry.

~jennifer.
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