Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On Breakdowns and Being Soft

Yesterday, I had a breakdown.  Today, I want to quit.  I think it's safe to say the two are related.
Okay, so some background. I'm not a terribly emotional person. Or at least, I don't display a lot of emotion, but I've always felt it. As a child, I felt everything so personally and completely that the whole world hurt, especially when I was bullied. As a teenager, my world was falling apart and I had to divorce myself from the real hurt. Unfortunately, I took that opportunity to immerse myself in drama and created all kinds of other problems from it. Thankfully, my memories are spotty from that time. As an adult in my early- and mid-20s, I continued to be hurt and to protect myself, I stopped, as best I could, showing my emotions. I process all kinds of pain, sadness, even happiness internally and/or with a very select few people around whom I feel comfortable.

Now, having said all that, I've been making concentrated efforts over the last few years to be more transparent and real because I see that that is healthy. I may not be entirely comfortable around crying people, but I don't judge or think of them any less respectfully because of their emotional outworkings. That's just stupid, no? Well, I've been trying to offer the same grace to myself.

A few more pertinent details:
  1. I've been considering adoption as a single woman for several years, but recently decided to move seriously in that direction. It's still several years (and a cross country move) off, but I'm proceeding confidently toward that goal and educating myself in all the areas I can think in the meantime.
  2. I've decided that I'd like to adopt a child somewhere between the ages of 3 and 10, likely a son, and I realized yesterday that he is probably already alive and experiencing the hurt and/or loss that must come before an adoption. (I'm cognisant of the fact that all adoption is a second best because it always stems from a broken situation and grief.) This is and remains especially devastating to me and has me a bit fragile.
  3. Each year, I choose an area of focus for my personal growth. This year, I'm purposing to care less about what other people might think of my Christian walk, since I know it is good and right for me at this place. There's truth in many sources, so this doesn't mean I discount their words, but assessment of my spiritual life is really only welcomed from trusted friends and mentors.
Okay, so yesterday, I was spending time in celebration with a friend who recently passed a test and another acquaintance from our group was there as well. This acquaintance is notably pretty intense – even in public gatherings I've shied away from getting close to her because outbursts that are perfectly normal to her are totally overwhelming for an introvert like me.

I was late to the party because I'd been sharing my recent adoption decisions with a close friend on the phone, which my local friends saw. When I came in, I explained that I was in a deep conversation and my acquaintance asked what about. Because this is good news, I shared and was met with positive feedback at first. Perhaps rightfully or at least honestly so, the conversation turned to find out where my source of energy would come from during the hardest times, since gumption and chutzpah can only take you so far. I felt that I explained well that every good thing in me comes from God, but that the change in thought processes will be internal as it's a logical process.

Can I just stop for a second here? I would like to note, for any record that is paying attention, that being a good communicator is great, but creates WORLDS of frustration when someone just doesn't get what you're saying. If 99% of the world's population can understand me, I'm clearly doing okay. Perhaps the other 1% isn't listening.

Speaking of not listening, my good explanation apparently wasn't good enough. I contend that this is probably because she wasn't listening. I'm sure she would differ. Potato, po-tah-to, either way, it wasn't happening. On top of that, said acquaintance is extremely talkative and continued to aggressively point out that I needed a “source”. So when I tried several ways to assert that I had answered the question, I got frustrated and started to cry. Then I got embarrassed that I was crying. Then the talker kept going around in circles and talking about how she wasn't sure where my relationship with God was and how if I believe in Him, He can be that source. It felt a lot like proselytizing and judging my current relationship with God. It's probably not fair to be upset that someone would try to proselytize, but that requires an assumption that the person that you're speaking to doesn't already rely on, believe in, trust, etc. God. I do. In a way I can't describe, I do. So out went my “blow off anyone who judges your faith” theory and in came a flood of frustrated, angry, sad, and fragile tears. Then came more embarrassment for crying.

I tried to compose myself in the bathroom and came back, hoping that all would be dropped, but alas, I was disappointed. It started again, tears started again, and eventually, I decided it's best to cut bait and hot footed it out of there. I suspect that #CelebrationsWithLaura will not be at the top of anyone's trending hashtag list in the near future.

Public Service Announcement: When someone cries, it's time to either sit quietly and wait for them to share or to change the subject entirely. Other acceptable actions may include making a cup of tea, hugs, or providing tissues. This may be the first lesson in the worldwide sensitivity training program that I think I need to start.

Other Side Note: I want to clarify something here, even if only for myself. I know that this woman wasn't intending to be hurtful. She was communicating as she knows how, which may happen to be in an insensitive way, but she wasn't aiming to damage and destroy. Her words were pointier than my soft heart was ready for and her failure to hear what I was trying to say could probably be blamed on us both. While I do intend to avoid her for the foreseeable future and beyond (if I can help it), it's not because I'm not's because I'm embarrassed.
Okay, so that's a really long background story, but I think it informs my next few thoughts.

First, this is such a reinforcement of the good, kind, loving, and supportive people in my life. Those who know me best are entirely behind me and willing to help me however they can. I'm so incredibly blessed with those people in my life and need to learn to prioritize them in both thought and action in my life. (Cue happy tears here.)

Second, maybe this is the natural selection of friendships here in CA. Maybe I need to go through painful incidents, where I'm misunderstood and feeling badgered, to learn which friends here are in that category. Until now, I've been a “Yes” girl, accepting virtually every invitation and scrap of appreciation as I try to excavate a place for myself in my church and in this new community. Perhaps a bit more selection and care is a good thing. I can, again, practice being the kind of adult and parent I want to be to my future child in the attention and affection and friendships I accept and seek.

Last (or at least last for now), I need to learn how to be soft better. I know how to be hard; I'm good at it. I need to learn to be soft and pliable and gentle but still strong. I need to develop surface tension to protect from attacks and help to keep shape, but to still be willing to be affected and changed.

All reflections aside, I think there's only one viable conclusion to come to: I need to find a new church. Ha, just kidding (sort of). It does make me want to quit, though. While significantly less dramatic and sensitive, I did have a similar thing happen at small group a few months ago where someone thought I was insinuating that one could work their way to heaven. This never even entered into the realm of possibility for me, so it was an unthinkable conclusion and I was quite put off that they would think I said that and insult my intelligence in that way. I felt like quitting then, too. I apparently only like to be around the people who understand me innately and/or actually listen when I speak. That's a sarcastic, somewhat blame-shifting defense mechanism at it's finest, right there, but there's a lot of truth in jokes.

I'm not going to quit. (I think.) But I want to. And I can't spend too much time honoring that feeling like I've been trying to do with my other emotions, because I know it's a lie and an over-reaction, but I do want to recognize this pattern.

Today, I need grace to forgive as I've been forgiven, even when no harm was intended, and grace to extend to myself for feeling things I can't fully process and explain, for being “weak” and breakable, and for allowing others to see it.
Last thing, promise: While I confided in a few close friends and am processing in writing about the gigantic hot mess, I don't really want to rehash this with either of the girls that was there. I felt attacked and misunderstood by my acquaintance and completely undefended by my closer friend. I went through two similar (enough) situations in my mid-20s with very close friends and tried to explain how things felt, and both situations ended in the dissolution of those friendships. That was probably right for those things and times, but my Pavolovian response is to just shut up this time if I want a different outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


There isn't much that I have learned
Through all my foolish years
Except that life keeps runnin' in cycles
First there's laughter, then those tears

 -Frank Sinatra "Cycles" 
When I was in 2nd grade, in Mrs. Duerksen's class, we did a project called, “In 12 Years...”. In it, my class full of 7- and 8-year-olds projected what our lives would look like in 12 years in sentences and pictures. All of our submissions were immortalized in a laminated sheet for us to take home. Our aspirations were varied: pharmacists, dino-scientists, gutter repairers, and much more. Apparently, when I was 7, I decided that I would be “marriad” and a movie star by the time I was 19. This is funny on a lot of levels, most notably because I can't ever remember a time I actually wanted to be a movie star, but also because 19 is just so young! Clearly, my perspective on adulthood was a lot different when I was 7. In actuality, when I was 19, I worked as an office manager for a landscaping company very near my hometown, volunteered with teenagers from my church, moved into my first apartment on my own, and ended up working 3 jobs just trying to make ends meet. It may not have been my best year in retrospect.

I found myself thinking about this project last night when I realized how cyclical adulthood really is. For the last 5 or 6 years, I have been very much the same person, with similar joys, struggles, fears, and aspirations and not a lot of change. While my home, job, and community have changed in that time, I am, at my core, essentially the same. As a person who believes that progress is important in life, that leaves me feeling like something of a failure. I have to constantly focus on the “soft” changes in my life, the growth in my inner being, to feel validated. It's especially hard for me when my friends' lives continue to change in leaps and bounds – career advancement, major moves, marriages, children, major purchases and investments.

The cycle I find myself restarting now is about remembering to hold things loosely. Part of being a (perpetually?) single woman is learning to be good on your own. It's something that delights my introvert's heart – to be able to enjoy my own company and sometimes even prefer it to being with others, to be independent and strong – but in recent weeks and months I've developed some relationships that are comfortable and casual, that make time spent with these friends sweet and low-key. I can call in my sweaty gym clothes at 8pm on a weeknight and just hang out and chat for an hour or two with no plan or expectations. It's soothing to have people in your life who accept you for who you are without any agenda.

Progress, though, impedes comfort. I think it might be its sole job, actually. And I'm reminded that the only things you can hold tightly are those that are intrinsic to your person. Everything else is at risk, fleeting and subject to change.

I should probably have mastered this practice by now. Losing Blaine so early in life has made me acutely aware of my own fallibility, of my body's ability to betray, and of the unfathomably unreliable nature of human life. We're born, we live, and we die – and that living part can be cut terribly short. This experience breeds fierce appreciation for those things that I love, whether I act on it appropriately or not.

Now, I just have to move from understanding of unexpected change to accepting and letting go. I will be okay – there's no question of that – but I want to be great. I want to feel only happiness and never loss when joy comes into the life of my friends, and that comes as a result of a selflessness I fear I may never have. But I can try.

And you know the plans that you have for me
And you can't plan the end and not plan the means
And so I suppose I just need some peace
Just to get me to sleep

-Caedmon's Call "Table for Two"

Monday, June 13, 2016


you can lock the door, yeah you know how
you can stay alone, you’re so proud but
you can’t keep the darkness out

whatever hurt you, what keeps you mad
wants you to let it go, let it pass
when memories turn to doubt
you can’t keep the darkness out

For as long as I can remember, I've been afraid of the dark.  As a kid, I was afraid of just about everything, fears that led to an involved bedtime routine of checking for bad guys or things and sometimes sleeping on the floor not to mention how I convinced myself that nothing bad could happen to me after midnight because it was a new day and long nights war ching the glowing red clock digits tick through late hours, awaiting the magic illumination of the AM dot before I allowed sleep to come.

When I moved into my first apartment, the fear lingered and led to high electric bills from lights left on all night.  I'm also an avid door locker.  As I've gotten older, these fears have graciously abated some and only rear their ugly heads when I'm most insecure these days.

Now, the fear of darkness is much deeper and much more internalized.  Today, I'm afraid of succumbing to the darkness.  The last few months have been a renaissance of sorts, a time of searching that have led me to a new community, a renewed love for the God of my youth, and, sadly, a resurgent fear that I'm doing it all wrong.  

I feel simultaneously not good enough and also not willing to change because where I am is good.  But on darker days like today, I feel like the darkness that once terrified might consume me.  Maybe I'm not strong enough to hold out for the goodness, kindness, justice that I so desperately desire to embody. Perhaps I won't be able to ever fit into this new community I've come to appreciate so much.  Will my old habits plunge me into the anxiety and depression that once governed my life?  I can feel it; it's a part of my very being and perhaps what once fueled the fears that consumed me.

A friend once told me that he likes to "flirt with the darkness" and, more than I'd like to admit, I understand that.  I don't so much flirt with it as I dip into it for momentary ease.  The habits and pathways that were unhealthy releases for me are too easy to fall back into and still offer reprieve that I shouldn't need.  What's a little giving in when trying is just so. damn. hard?  

These are the things that scare me now, not external forces but rather thoughts and feelings that are a truly interwoven part of my being.  How does one truly divorce herself from a part of her psyche and experience?  And if, some time, I move from flirting with the darkness to living in it once again, is there grace for a way out?

there’s nothing wrong with the heart in your chest
it might be heavy but it’s innocent
it can’t keep the darkness ou
-"The Darkness" by Rose Cousins

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Callous Heart

Words crashing through the flames smoke spreading far
And I thought we'd remain free from it's harm
You let the fire out, and it's right in front of me
-"The Fire" by Kina Grannis

Who do I want to be? For all of its downs, moving across the country is a great opportunity to reinvent yourself. I'm not nearly fluid or flexible enough to fake my own personality, but I do feel like I have some leeway in deciding what facets of my personality I allow to come to the forefront. When I moved here, it was all about being free and not judgmental – the opposite of my Pennsylvania self. At my core, I am pretty progressive but there are many of conflicting influences in my head. I've got the religious and familial guilt and a whole pile of cultural indoctrination that rolls around that I've gotten really good at ignoring, but I'm trying, for the first time in a long time (maybe ever), to be informed by the faith I can't ignore and allow my callous heart to be shaped and changed, to allow myself to be vulnerable where I've before only protected, reacted, and practiced stubbornness. I'm not so good at this changing thing.

And then, when I'm most honest with myself, I remember that I'm also inexorably affected by my affections. How many times have I molded myself toward similarity to whomever my heart desired only to find myself with neither the object of my affection nor lasting change? I don't want to be that girl, now or ever again.

So then, when the desired is perhaps closer to transformed than I, how am I to respond when his heart is hurting from our actions but mine is not? Am I not close enough to the mind of God? Am I hardened still to contrition? Is he just more in tune with the heart of God than I am? Are our personal experiences creating the differences in response? Does his own regret and conviction apply to me in the same way in his head? Does he think I should feel remorse?

I feel only glad for the connection and camaraderie, but now another dimension of guilt has been applied and introduced nerves for the future. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, even in that statement, do I apply a “we” rather than own my own feelings and lack of feelings?

How do I balance this fine line between support and indoctrination without falling off either cliff?

I'm not one for regret, but tonight, I'm trying to find grace for callousness.

Monday, April 25, 2016


“Let's harmonize.”

I had no idea as I sat in my folding chair that Sunday morning, slightly disheveled from a late night out, later to church than normal, and distracted by unfamiliar crowds, that I'd hear the words and feel the validation I didn't even know I'd been waiting for.

I'm sure my eyes widened more than was appropriate at seeing his tall, slim figured sliding in to the seat next to me. Black coffee swirled and sloshed in the paper cup he carried. I rushed to move my things from the chair without making a fool of myself – I imagined accidentally covering him in cheap iced coffee or stabbing him with my ever-jingling keys. I'm sure I said something acquiescent, attempting to channel more grace and less nervousness than I actually felt.

He'd never heard me sing, though we'd talked about music several times before and he'd apparently taken me at my word that I could actually sing. This trust created more nervousness in me than was probably necessary, but as the worship began, we stood beside each other and fumbled to hear melodies and each others' harmonies and finally fell into an easy blend as the measures passed.

For me, the sermon passed excruciatingly slowly. Direction from Paul in Ephesians on husbands and wives is always hard for me; it reminds me that I'm not yet married, despite my wish to be, and to sit next to him, our legs crossing in opposite directions and our opposite handedness evident in the way we move, reminded me that I might never be. Because of my uncertain feelings, I'd been somewhat deliberately choosing to avoid showing interest in him because I'd not seen any signs of interest from him. In fact, those words were likely the first ones that I'd heard from him that even hinted at more than just a passing acknowledgment of my existence.

In that, I probably read too much. But nonetheless, my logical brain can see connections where there may not be any yet, and his invitation inspired boldness in me. “It's okay to be transparent about feelings,” I chanted to myself as if I'd heard it in therapy while composing the most succinct email I could create to offer thanks and invite conversation. I've counseled this very mantra to other women struggling to find the balance between modern female empowerment and traditional and Biblical values in dating. More often than not, I'd fallen off one side or other of the fence, and these days, I mostly erred in the cowardly direction. Three sentences and several consultations of a thesaurus later, I sent it, mentally preparing for the worst I could imagine happening.

In truth, the response was neither absent nor disparaging, as my anxiety had projected. It was polite, nonchalant, and an excellent reminder that my existence (and maybe even my talent) was acknowledged and that was all I should expect.

And so, here I sit, basking and over-analyzing in writing a series of events that was likely just a blip on his radar, if even that. Perhaps this will be my own form of therapy as I work to remember that it is okay to be transparent, but that transparency invites the same and can lead to disappointment in much the same way as self-sabotage can, only with less control and more anxiety. Today, I'll have grace for courage and grace for cowardice.