Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On waddling and receiving

I am pregnant. Like, so so pregnant.

My giant baby has dropped this week. If you don't know what that means, imagine you are walking with a watermelon partially in your body crushing all of your internal organs, but also partially dangling out of your body, you also still can't breathe, and you feel like your hips are about to explode from the internal pressure.

(If  you are one of these magical women that this doesn't happen to, then please feel free to continue doing your deep squats and speed walking until the day you give birth in lieu of commenting. I'll be over here trying to retain my dignity while asking people to please help me put my shoes on so I can conspicuously waddle to my next location.)

Pregnancy and postpartum is wonderful for some. The growing new life part and the anticipation of another sweet little milky baby in the house is indeed wonderful for me.

However, compartmentalization is a learned and not natural task for me personally, and this challenge unfortunately still applies to all of the complicated feelings and sensations that come with growing and birthing a baby while still trying to be a competent, semi-pleasant human being.

Physical discomfort, prolonged "morning" sickness (surely named by someone hilarious), HORMONES, and pregnancy hypoglycemia have all made it a Herculean effort to control my mood and sometimes to simply function. I have long wrestled with guilt over this aspect of my being. I have a keener empathy for my toddlers and preschoolers who are hangry or tired and simply aren't entirely responsibly for their behavior because their brains are flooded with all the things.

I saw this on a marriage facebook page several different times this week

 and keep reading it as "Ask God to give your spouse a heart for enduring a marriage with you." Which seems more accurate as I'm not the easiest person to live with, especially recently.

As I mentioned in my last post, the idea of service and being a brother's keeper have been weighing on my heart. In actuality, this concept has been plaguing me with guilt this pregnancy. My lack of control over my physical world since December (and even my faculties at many times) have made it difficult to help others when I see a need. I want to offer to drop off homemade meals or run errands for friends who could also use relief, or to be able to give counsel or a listening ear at will like I used to when I was a non-pregnant, functioning human being.

In reality, this would only be possible by neglecting my own self and my family, who are lucky if they get scrambled eggs on a paper plate for dinner and calm words (sans tears) from me. Contrary to belief, we cannot do it all and something always has to give. To do those things now would be a serious breech of priorities in many cases.

This weekend when my family and I went to Costco, I could barely walk. I threw my hip out of place and badly concealed how miserable I was and how difficult it was to shuffle one swollen foot in front of the other. I was almost crying at the front entrance after the painful waddle from the car.

We joked about how wonderful an adult stroller would be...when suddenly there one was! My husband insisted he push me around the store. Flooded with guilt and embarrassment, I tried to protest, but ended up in the wheelchair/cart thing anyway.

A few minutes later all of the resistance at receiving this sort of help and service faded away. My husband happily pushed me through the store, periodically leaning over to kiss my forehead. His joyful, no strings attached service started to transform me. I stopped annoyingly apologizing every six seconds and realized that by taking some of my burden, he was freeing me. I was free to not be so preoccupied with my own discomfort that I could more cheerfully convey our list to the rest of the family instead of muttering pained responses of "cheese" and "toilet paper". We were all smiling.

I have pridefully turned away much needed help or only received it guiltily the last several months because I forgot that serving only works when there is a receiver. I am always trying to impress upon others that there is no shame in receiving when they are in time of need, but I have been finding this difficult to apply to myself. There can be a pride and even an identity tied to being a helper that it can be disorienting to suddenly be a receiver. It has been for me, especially when it has been months and months of being in this position.

In reality, authentic service is just as much about knowing how to receive these things graciously as it is to give them. If I am only giving and serving and helping but not receiving, is my love of serving just really another platform for me to show that I have it all together, or one more thing for me to falsely wrap my identity in? Yikes.

Have you ever tried to dress a young toddler? They can't dress themselves completely, so it's a necessary service. It's extremely difficult to dress them when they insist on putting their own little stubby arms in the holes of the shirt unassisted. After watching them scream and flail and kick you in the shins while they try to figure out how to put their arm in the hole when the sleeve is tucked in is time consuming. After I finally convince the child to let me help (or wrestle them in the sleeve if we are running late), we both fall into a sweaty, red faced, grumpy mess after the whole ordeal, which likely took 10 minutes instead of the required 10 seconds.

If you've never dressed a toddler or done anything similar, like try to give a wild animal a pedicure, I'm sure you can conjure up a time it was annoying to do something for someone because of their resistance to the vulnerability of receiving either no strings attached assistance or even hospitality. It's a joy sucker.

Reluctant receiving, involving unnecessary apologies and extreme awkwardness, blocks gratitude and joyful reciprocity between people. Let's skip the resistance and the looming subtext of guilt and foolish pride. It's more gratifying for both the giver and the receiver.

Sometimes I will be the one to help someone find the armhole of their shirt.
When I'm old and senile, I will be the one receiving help finding the armhole of my shirt.
See? I'm already anticipating being a gracious receiver.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blinding bird poop

It's been almost three years since I graced this little spot.

If I really wanted people to know my thoughts, I guess I could send a text message to the five people who read this blog and tell them my thoughts. I am sure my friends wouldn't mind a break from the regular messages of
So tired, please send coffee 
I need queso in my life 
How do I apply mascara without getting it all over my eyelids? 
and other equally compelling thoughts I send them throughout the day.

But I really no longer want to be heard, I just need to write. Even if it's to just look back on what I wrote and realize how silly and small I am.


I struggle sometimes with the Scriptures feeling relevant. I struggle all of the time. I try to do the readings for the day most days, but sometimes I am a heathen and skip right ahead to the reflection because I want instant inspiration. (I usually read the daily devotions over at Blessed is She.)

That's right, I just said in my small mindedness that the Scriptures aren't inspirational. It's not a Scripture problem, it's a personal problem.

This morning I entered the morning reading differently. After I made a cup of coffee with an embarrassing amount of half in half, I sat down like I was praying and not just gearing up to read a much dreaded homework assignment. I asked God to speak to my silly little deaf ears through the Scripture and sort of thought maybe He might give it a try if He felt like talking. (I've got faith that can move mountains I tell ya.)

I read the first reading 1 Tobit 2: 2-9. I am not a Scripture scholar. I know the basics on the background about the four Gospels, the Old Testament, the Letters of Paul. When I saw Tobit, wedding-ish readings vaguely rang a bell, that was the extent of my knowledge.

On the night of Pentecost, after I had buried the dead,
I, Tobit, went into my courtyard 
to sleep next to the courtyard wall. 
My face was uncovered because of the heat. 

Maybe God is speaking to me already...I'm 7.5 months pregnant in Louisiana. Tobit is wearing less because he's hot. I'm always hot. You're connecting with me already, God.

I did not know there were birds perched on the wall above me, 
till their warm droppings settled in my eyes, causing cataracts. 

Connection lost. 

But now I'm propelled forward through the reading because of my morbid interest in what happens when one gets toxic bird poop in their eyes.

I went to see some doctors for a cure
but the more they anointed my eyes with various salves, 
the worse the cataracts became, 
until I could see no more. 
For four years I was deprived of eyesight, and 
all my kinsmen were grieved at my condition. 
Ahiqar, however, took care of me for two years, 
until he left for Elymais.

At that time, my wife Anna worked for hire 
at weaving cloth, the kind of work women do. 
When she sent back the goods to their owners, they would pay her. 
Late in winter on the seventh of Dystrus, 
she finished the cloth and sent it back to the owners. 
They paid her the full salary
and also gave her a young goat for the table. 
On entering my house the goat began to bleat. 

I called to my wife and said: "Where did this goat come from? 
Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back to its owners; 
we have no right to eat stolen food!"
She said to me, "It was given to me as a bonus over and above my wages.
Yet I would not believe her, 
and told her to give it back to its owners.
I became very angry with her over this. 
So she retorted: "Where are your charitable deeds now?
Where are your virtuous acts? 
See! Your true character is finally showing itself!"

By the end of the reading I am laughing out loud by myself in the living room because what could be more relevant than Scripture showcasing a marital squabble? 

When I am upset in an argument, I will sometimes google things that are, in hindsight, telling of what stage of processing a disagreement I am in. 

When tempers are still high and I'm trying to cool off, hoping for affirmation that my perspective is correct, I google things like "how to deal with unreasonable people."  The responses show me that other people have truly horrific spouses and toxic people in their life. This helps me feel less like a victim and I chill out significantly when I realize that my situation is not as critical as the poor other googling people.

As I start to cool down and just want peace but am looking for ways to be mature when I'm not feeling mature at all, I google phrases such as "how to settle a fight amicably" or "how to maintain respect in a relationship". Now I've got some concrete tools that I will 95% of the time fail in applying because after 30 seconds I'm all like 

When I am ready to move myself out of the way even a little bit to ask God for wisdom on a situation, He speaks. He probably has been speaking over my google searches the whole time. Although I imagine he is shaking his head at my pride and vanity, He's likely just patiently waiting for me to come around. Probably a benefit of existing outside of time in eternity is that you're cool with being patient.

He tells me things through (surprise!) those boring, uninspirational Scriptures. Depending on which party I am in the disagreement, He tells me to either recognize that I have toxic bird poop in my eyes that is blinding my senses before I am quick to assert the rightness of my perspective. Or to recognize that the other party in the disagreement is letting some ugly part of their character that they struggle with show through and that I have to suck it up and love them anyway while they work it out.

I'm tempted in arguments to get hung up on which party I am: the blind bird poopy one or the one struggling to love someone unconditionally when they show their flaws? The truth is, it doesn't really matter which one I am for two reasons:

1) In almost all situations, I am an unflattering mixture of both the blind and unloving/impatient person. Although I want to think that being the non-poopy person would be the higher position, what is admirable about being "right" if it's really just that my personal boundaries are too poor to let the other person just be imperfect without micromanaging them and pointing out their flaws without restraint? Sounds like I come out smelling like poop either way.

2) I am not called to correctness. I am sure my family and friends get a bad taste in their mouths when I accidentally sacrifice our relationship on the altar of my need to be right. As for with my spouse, I certainly did not say in my marriage vows, I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life as long as I always perceive myself as right. Although this type of conditional love would be easier if I am being honest with myself.

I have had stuck in my head all week the lyrics to The Servant's Song:

Brother let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
I have read these lyrics over and over. If I were saying these words to my spouse or close family and friends, would they be laughable because I'm so bad at it? (Probably.) 

This concept of being a Brother's Keeper applies to any state in life: religious, laity, single, married. It just seems most applicable for me to marriage and family life because that is what is staring me in the face everyday as my own personal primary calling. 

It's hard. 

It requires a deep humility I do not possess instead of indignant righteousness that seems much easier to come by. I do not know how to apply it in my daily life except for clumsy attempts. Next time I get in a frustrating squabble, I will probably still google only slightly more dignified things like "how to overcome anger when I'm really right but know I need to get over myself anyway" before I exhaust all possibilities and end up in prayer again. 
And then most likely in prayer God will tell me that I have both toxic poop in my eyes and a humility/impatience combo problem. 
And then I will blindly fumble on how to implement these lofty concepts of servitude without being a doormat or a bulldozer and fail miserably.
And then I will google something. 

Rinse and repeat.

That is why this place is "the business of becoming" instead of "the business of having everything all figured out."