Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marionette

My one word for 2014 was "ignore." I remember well writing this. I remember the frustration I felt regarding facebook, especially. Many posts in my newsfeed had gotten under my skin: political, religious, and especially those I'd thought judgmental. I'd felt the need, often, to comment—to express my “righteous indignation”—but even when I'd managed to refrain from commenting, I'd found myself arguing in my head with the person whose words had offended me.

Sometimes, after crafting an argument in my head for days, I'd blogged it out. Those argumentative posts, while popular, hadn’t fulfilled my purpose in blogging: to capture my family and myself in words. I hadn’t been writing for my children but, instead, to those with whom I'd disagreed most vehemently.

Over time, I'd damaged relationships—including some that I hold most dearly—with anger, distraction, or both.

I started unfriending and unfollowing people whose words offended me but realized pretty quickly: I wasn't any less angry or angry less often. Facebook felt like a bottomless barrel of offense, and the facebook friends whose words offended me had, in most cases, nothing in common but me. I was the common denominator. I knew my anger was my problem, but I didn't know how to fix my problem! Finally, I deactivated my account.

I was facebook free for four months, and it was a good four months. It was quieter in my head. I thought and wrote happier thoughts, and God seemed nearer. I seemed nearer to myself.

Ultimately, though, I missed my friends...some with whom I retain contact only through facebook. I missed the ease with which I could get in touch with them, ask them questions, and keep up with not only their lives but also local events and opportunities. Facebook is an incredible source of information!

Since reactivating my account, I've handled facebook a bit better. I avoid it when my feed blows up over a particularly divisive issue. In most cases, when someone's words offend me, I choose not to comment, and inasmuch as possible, I choose to think about something else. I still unfriend and unfollow on occasion.

But what I really want to share with you is this: my counselor, in talking with me about my reactionary tendencies, suggested gently that I'm giving most anyone the power to trigger my anger at any moment. I'm like a marionette dangling from thousands of strings. The great irony in this is that--often, when I respond with anger--it's because I feel like someone is attempting to control me: trying to tell me what to think or do, judging me, patronizing me. But only in getting worked up (over what I perceive as someone's attempt to control me) do I lose control...do I, effectively, hand over control.


I shared some of my struggles, recently, with a pastor friend. (I would be remiss if I failed to say: it was incredibly providential that we even had the time and space for the conversation; we were supposed to be meeting with others who were--through no fault of their own--running late.) My friend is a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory, and he offered me a new word: differentiation, which relates to one's ability to separate his or her emotions and thinking from that of others. A person with a high level of differentiation, according to Bowen, will find himself or herself capable of connection (relationships) with others, in general, but disconnection from others' emotions and thinking. 

I realized: I don't want to ignore others. I want to differentiate from others. I want to grow in terms of emotional maturity. I want, in short, to be able to think and convey with calmness and dignity: inasmuch as you are you, I am me, and I will choose how I behave and think. 

So my word for 2015, and the remainder of 2014, is differentiate. I'm tired of being a marionette! And isn't God good for helping us, oftentimes through other people? I'm so thankful.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pain, Rage, and Thoughts on Advent

If you were my therapist--asking what I'm thinking or learning, or how I'm being led--I would tell you I'm thinking about pain and rage. I'm thinking about everyone's pain and rage, but it's easiest (safest) to write about my own, knowing I am--to a certain extent--everyone. I am him, and her, and you.

I'm just figuring out: I know very little about managing my pain. I'm talking about inner, not physical, pain. My parents didn't offer much help in this regard. I know they did the very best they could with what they had. Also, in all fairness, no one else has offered much help, either.

I'm forty years old. I know I'm responsible for my own behavior, that I have choices regarding all of my behavior. I know I'm lacking some tools in my toolbox but that they can be acquired. I didn't know these things for the longest time.

A friend said to me: "You're more than your emotions, you know." His words penetrated my consciousness like an arrow shot out of the dark. I received them immediately and as truth, but with surprise. That was a year ago, maybe: an important moment in this leg of my journey.

I'm more than my emotions. In times of conflict, I don't have to fight. I don't have to flee. I don't have to be anyone's doormat, ever. (I've never chosen that last scenario, anyway, but know how it works.) I have the option to say: "I'm going to take a break from this and come back to it when we're able to have a civilized conversation." As I've written before, that option feels unnatural, even painful, to me. But I'll choose it over and over until I've learned it...because I don't want any of my children, at forty, to have to pay someone to learn something (s)he should be learning from me.


And, now. Advent.

My friend Sharon asked me to go with her to a Blue Christmas service held on the first night of Advent. I took Clementine, my five-year-old daughter, with me. I took her mostly because she had dance class until shortly before the service, but given that her mamaw had flown to heaven at the end of May, I wondered if there would be takeaways for her.

A Blue Christmas service makes space for sadness at Christmastime. It acknowledges that grief is part of the human experience and that Jesus, having suffered Himself, understands. I watched my little daughter write: "I miss Mamaw," on a piece of paper; cry real tears; light one candle; and carry another candle from darkness into light. I hadn't imagined that the service would hold so much meaning for her.

I could use more of this, I thought, in my life. If I have to wait--if I have to, for example, take a step back from conflict--I would prefer to do so in an atmosphere like this. I would like for someone to stand beside me, wordless, in my darkness. I would like for someone to pass me a candle...or the peace. I would like for someone to acknowledge my pain. These things would go a long way, I think, toward diffusing my rage.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mindfulness: Poem of Thanksgiving (Repost)

What is man, that thou are mindful of him? Psalm 8:4a


He sees you clearly in the bleary, in the crowd, under the one umbrella you've managed not to lose;
road raging in your car, whaling on the wheel, bellowing unheard insults at the driver just ahead;
lying on your hollow belly, crying for one whom you love but haven't yet been able to hold, or for
one whom you love whom you lost before you'd thought how you might, without, get up and go.

He sees you reaching deep, tapping into next-to-nothing, scraping at scraps just to comfort a friend;
dragging--another day another dollar--into a joyless jobplace because dear ones depend on you;
fighting to forgive (s)he who stole a piece of your soul and walked away, never once looking back;
cooking, cleaning, diapering and dreaming of the day when your art will wing its way out. And out.

He is mindful of you.

Thank Him.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fight or Flight

I liked our new marriage counselor immediately. She's deadpan, and I don't tend to run the roads with suchlike, but Lord help: when sparks are flying between him and me--or me and me, for that matter--the counselor's impassivity is such a gift. Also, she has the kindest eyes I've ever seen.

She's seeing us separately, for now. When she asked, last session, what I was learning or thinking, or how the Lord was leading, I told her a little about a class I'm taking through Canvas Network on behavior management. It emphasizes making small shifts in one's own behavior, as teacher, in order to impact the behavior of one's students. I signed up for the class because I'd never studied behavior management and had recognized a deficiency when teaching sixth-grade English, also because I find myself flailing in this area, even now, while home educating Jim's and my four- and five-year-old daughters.

Online instructor Paul Dix explains: humans have both an emotional mind (the limbic brain) and a rational mind (the prefrontal cortex). The emotional mind is dominant and has--smack-dab in the middle of it--a nut-shaped object called the Amygdala. The Amygdala's job is to respond to threat signals (Danger!) by releasing small bursts of hormones into the rational brain. Once the Amygdala has triggered, rational thinking stops, and a body prepares for fight or flight.

My emotional mind, I told the marriage counselor, controls me too often. I'm pretty much always ready for fight or flight, and while I'd thought I'd like to be a person who yells a little less, especially at the kids, I hadn't realized the serious ramifications of such behavior. If any of us is "on eggshells," so to speak, (s)he isn't learning the way she should...which may well provide the single best explanation for why I'm not a genius by now.

At this point, the counselor whipped out a couple of huge, matching volumes, and we took turns reading aloud through a section on being reactionary. "Well, what do you think?" she asked when we finished. "Can you relate to any of that?"

"I can relate to all of it," I said, then: "I had no idea I was so broken."

"We're all broken," she said, "and the point isn't to beat yourself up. This is learned behavior, and it's difficult to overcome. But you're worth it; do you hear me? You're worth it. And so are those you love."

I'd tell you I haven't written much, lately, because I've been busy, but truth is: I've been busy for far longer than the four years I've been blogging. It's closer to the truth to say I've been learning and processing so much that I haven't been able figure out how or where to start sharing.

Jim's and my marriage isn't any happier than any other romantic relationship I've ever had, which is to say: it isn't very happy at all. Jim's and my marriage is holy, however. The way we deal with one another isn't holy, always (or even most of the time), but if nothing else, our marriage has an "iron sharpening iron" quality to it.

This man will not leave me alone. He will not let me be who I am. It's exhausting. I feel picked at, nitpicked, roosterpecked.

But.

I have to ask myself: have I become, over the course of this relationship, closer to who God would have me be? And yes. Unequivocally. God doesn't leave us alone, either; does He?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chip Turns Two

Dear Chip,

I scolded you, last night, for dumping a bottle of blue Powerade onto the rug. It's your horrible thing, the dumping, and my first experience with a child's taking it upon himself to free anything (liquid or solid) he can from a container.

Anyway, when I fussed and you looked up at me, it was with Grandma B.'s eyes. I'd never recognized them in you, before: not like that. It took my breath. I blinked back tears, stood up quickly and walked into the kitchen so as to distract myself and avoid an ugly cry for which I had no energy.

You're two years old, now: old enough that I can say with certainty that you're not the little boy I dreamed, the one for whom I thought I was trying all those years. I know you're not him because I can still see him so clearly; he looks exactly like your dad but with Cade's (Papaw's, my) nearly black hair. Maybe he's the baby I lost. I'm thankful for the vision of that little boy because it sparked my efforts to bring you here. I would not trade you for him. I would not trade you for anyone.

I realize--when I compare your first two years with the first two years of your siblings--I regret much less. I've learned the hard way: nothing's guaranteed. Just because a person wants a healthy baby doesn't mean she'll get (or keep) one. And I'm starting to figure out, I think, just how quickly it all goes. I've soaked up your life, and I'm almost proud of how spoiled (loved) you are. I haven't tried to wean or sleep-train you, yet. "Mama's baby," I've taught you to say, and yes.

You're not as verbal as your sisters were at your age, but you're learning new words all the time, and you know exactly what's going on. I love to watch you pray, how you pinch your eyes closed as hard as you can and spring them open just in time. "Amen!" you call out with a grin. You let us know when you're scared, when you want a gummy (fruit snack), when you don't think we're funny. Over and over, you look at me and say: "I love you."

Sometimes I wonder who you'll grow to be, and sometimes I think I know. I doubt you'll lose your love for music, balls, animals, or water. I wish Grandma would give me her opinion on this subject and so many others. I wish, on this autumn day, she were here. Then I catch your eye and remember she is: that she's well inside both you and me.

I love you so much.

Mama

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Own It: Smart Cookies Fail Forward

This blog post fulfills the last requirement for my 5 Habits of Highly Creative Teachers class.


The final module revolves around the subjects of failing and thriving. My definition of failure is the irreversible ending of a project or relationship. I considered both project and relationship failures when completing the exercises and probably enjoyed writing about the project failure more, if only because it isn't a true failure, yet, and I'm able to view it with optimism.


The outcome to the exercise was expected, but it's good to see my words in black and white. I know what I need to do to improve the situation with the project, and all that's left is the doing it. Sitting on my hands isn't working out.


I've completed my personal journey map of the class in Google docs, and you can view it by clicking here.

Own It: Remix with Your Tribe!

This blog post fulfills a requirement for my 5 Habits of Highly Creative Teachers class.

My definition of "remix" is to create something new and reflective of oneself, having welcomed the inspiration of others. My favorite exercise in this module involved producing a collage of several ideas I'd curated. I broke lots of rules by curating mostly in my own head, transforming the content instead of juxtaposing it, and producing more of a composite than a collage; however, the finished product was prompted by the exercise, so I'll share my creative process.

I started with this photo from a recent session:

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As you can see, I had exposure issues, and at my distance from the happy, young man standing on a swing, it looked like I'd photographed a hanging. Still, I hesitated to discard the photo and tried to think of a way to "save" the image and use it in a way pleasing to my client.
I turned the tree into a silhouette of sorts and changed the black of the silhouette to blue. Next, I incorporated some texture: a relatively new area of exploration for me. At that point, I searched Pinterest for "tree quote." I found one that seemed fitting for the family, then modified and incorporated it. I played with various fonts for both the quote and the family name. I was really liking the image at that point but felt like something was missing: the "wings" of the quote, I realized, so I added the bird sticker that looked, to my eye, like a cardinal (our state bird). The outcome is original, I think.

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My tendency, as an artist, is to rely more heavily on photography than editing. Most of the edits I perform are simple: tweaks, really, and I'm glad to be able to do so much of the work with my camera as opposed to my computer. Frankly, though, there are times (as in this case) that I don't like an image straight out of my camera. In those instances, sometimes I discard, and sometimes I make time and space for a different kind of art: one that requires heavier editing. It can be thrilling to make something out of nothing or very little...to save something I've considered throwing away.