So, it finally happened. Last week my 1 year old (soon to be 2 year old) christened the bathtub with a teeny turd. It was a milestone of sorts. Don’t misunderstand me, it was absolutely super nasty, necessitating a complete bleach down of the bath, but for some reason my older kids love retelling those sorts of stories about themselves. SO, in true Smith kid fashion I’m sure that my sweet Nyla will learn to brag about her pint sized ordeal some day.
Mia for instance, my 7 year old daughter loves to tell of the time she also introduced a floating obstacle to a bath full of toys and an innocent brother. Needless to say, all the toys were tossed and a simple bath will forever live in infamy. My son will never be outdone. When Mia takes her opportunities to brag about her baby antics, Christian (my 9 year old) quickly jumps in to tell his own story. His narrative is pretty short…he peed on his own face. My side of the story is much more colorful, of course. And so it goes that during a diaper change, Christian, no more than a few weeks old, began to pee and as any first time parent or first time parent of a boy would be, I was so alarmed! There was no controlling the flow or direction. It was terrifying. Every object, wall or person within a 10 foot radius was a potential target. In the excitement of it all, Christian bathed his own face in pee. The realization that my precious little baby had pee on his face made me feel sooo terrible. At his tender age he’d already experienced one of humankind’s greatest degrees of disrespect and it was entirely inflicted on him by himself. Furthermore, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Anyway, his version of events never includes the emotional trauma that I felt.
For my kids there no sense of shame and only hilarity when they share with unsuspecting relatives, friends and at times strangers. It’s a little disturbing…yes, but beyond my slight personal embarrassment, I’m thankful that my kids aren’t saddled with the burden of shame. There will be plenty of years down the line where I’m sure they’ll encounter that dark, heavy, sinking feeling of indignity. I’d rather they never feel it ever, but I understand our society interacts with shame using it as a sort of teacher in the school of life. I can’t count the number of times that phrase “shame on you” has run through my mind. Usually it’s accompanied by the image of a little old lady wagging her boney finger at me (I’m not sure why, this person is a complete figment of my imagination), but I’ve always struggled with the weight of shame. Shame linked to ridiculous, meaningless things and shame linked to my own major blunders. And to be honest, the shame I’ve always felt has been directly tied to my perceptions of how others may feel about me and my choices. Shame…what a subjectively based, nasty thing!
I wonder if we all struggle with feeling the weight of that imaginary old lady/grandma figure wagging a finger in our direction. Is it just me?? I’ve heard it said; without shame how can a person feel regret for bad decisions and desire change? I’ve personally experienced the opposite. Shame has played the role of emotional manipulator, evoking a false remorse; or maybe more accurately misplaced remorse. Side note: My husband is a huge fan of the movie, The Princess Bride, always has been (maybe from birth, well…not really birth, more like elementary school), but in reading through this, he instantly pictured that old nasty witch-like lady who boos Buttercup. “BOO, BOO, BOO to the queen of filth, of garbage…” We all know that scene, right?? The scene is actually funny in a very uncomfortable sort of way, but she’s a close to perfect example of shame. I say ‘close’ to perfect because I believe that true shame has its greatest impact when it’s generated from a person whose opinion matters, because we/I crave acceptance. I didn’t realize that the relationships in my life that transacted through shame offered counterfeit acceptance.
It wasn’t until a handful of years ago that I began to understand that I could be in charge of my shame. It didn’t have to control me. For the bulk of my life, shame was nearly a basic algebra equation: me + my choices = shame (sad and depressing algebra, really). But I had an epiphany. It didn’t happen in a vacuum of course, I had help achieving the epiphany, but what I ended up coming to is this: I can say no to shame. I can live free-ish of the expectations of others. I use the non-word “free-ish” because there are always going to be people in our lives whose expectations we’re subject to to some degree; bosses, spouses, etc. The huge game changer for me was coming to a place of believing that I am intrinsically valuable and loved. I am constantly accepted and always wanted regardless of my choices. Of course I’m talking about how God feels about me. No person has the capacity to be that amazing. Once I began looking at my relationships, myself and my choices (past and present) in light of this revelation everything changed for me. I stopped fighting and deeply longing for the acceptance of others. It was already coming from a superior and unwavering place. I'm not "fixed", if you will. I still have to talk myself off the shame ledge periodically; sometimes daily, but it truly doesn’t have the hold on me that it did before.
Ok, time to get out of the trenches and back on to lighter ground…well maybe poop colored ground. I didn’t mention my 5 year old Sofia earlier. It isn’t because she doesn’t have her share of moments, but more that she’s not quite in step with the others in terms of sharing her dirty little secrets. I’m sure she’ll get there eventually considering her influences. I’ve mentioned before that she’s a riot and it’s absolutely the truth. Usually she’s amazingly funny because she’s just being her and not intending to draw a laugh. What she might share if she remembered its happening is this: something about my parent’s pool always had sort of a laxative effect on her as a wee one. It was almost as if the mere sight of their pool was enough to create a bulge in the back of her swim suit. I’m giggling as I write this. It's just so funny; super yucky but really funny! She was so little at the time, probably 2 ish. Here’s to kids without shame! But even better, here’s to kids who grow into adults without shame!
To Pass the Basket or Not...
Yes, we’re still looking for the right church for our family. Seven months in and the hunt continues. It’s been arduous and discouraging at times, but it hasn’t been all negative. A great deal of it has been quite wonderful. We’ve met lovely people spanning the entire spectrum of Christianity. Some of them worshiped with their arms pined to their sides and others were very expressive. Side note: one thing I adore is seeing someone, full throttle - all out worshiping at the top of their lungs, singing... completely off tune. In my heart of hearts I feel that it’s so endearing and beautiful to see that degree of honesty and freedom in a person. I know God thinks it’s beautiful! Here is where my husband would likely point out that although I love worshiping with that person, I struggle with singing directly next to them because I can't carry a tune either when I'm surrounded by multiple tones. But what I love about church is that it's a place where people of all ages, nations and walks of life can come together, exuberant or withdrawn, and encounter something amazing.
I grew up in church so I’ve always had a context for the things I experienced. Church was embedded in my family culture; immediate family and distant. This season of being a “visitor” has allowed me the benefit of a number of awakenings of sorts. It has opened my eyes to how unique (dare I say strange) the whole church experience can be, especially for a newcomer. I think that not feeling at home in a church is affecting my sense of context. I believe that church commitment is comparable to relationships in that we tend to let down our guards, do less questioning and more accepting and eventually maybe some excusing as we commit ourselves fully. Similar to the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I get the sense that I’ve been given a glimpse of sorts: church from an outsider’s perspective. I’m finding myself questioning all the little nuances and rituals we Christians have created that have come to make up the church experience.
To pass the offering basket or not…that is the question. I loosely quote Shakespeare to bring some lightness, but to be honest; it’s one of the ship-load of questions I’ve been mulling over throughout our hunt for our next church home. Suddenly I find myself wondering why we do this. Since the dawn of church, has money always been requested or did giving have a different catalyst?
Throughout the last half year, I’ve visited churches passing the offering baskets a hundred different ways. (Ok, not literally a hundred, maybe more like a handful.) Some request an offering nearly under the radar and others have pastors who preach mini messages in preparation for giving. I even visited a church where 2 offerings were elicited back to back, both intended for the needs of that church. Many times churches encourage visitors not to feel any obligation, but even when I'm not the visitor, the word “obligation” is kind of an icky word for me. Obligation seems to rob me of a bit of the pleasure or joy I find in giving.
Then there's the mini pre-offering sermon or extra long sermon-prayer. Usually this consists of being reminded that 1. God loves a cheerful giver, 2. my gift in faith is sewing into something totally unrelated in my own life and 3. that giving equals increased personal financial blessing. I can't help but wonder if the presentation of the request is manipulating me to give. Church theology, in these moments, seems to take a hard left away from the Gospel message of “done” to “do for God and he will do for you.” As a person who's always struggled with forgiving myself for my wrongs, I sincerely appreciate the common sense of that system, but I’ve never found freedom there. My deepest moments of liberty have come from the revelation that God gave everything for me and there’s nothing that "doing" will get me.
I absolutely don’t believe that the bulk of churches intend to manipulate their congregants into giving. Needs are real and God wants us to be givers. How can needs be met if needs aren’t known, right?? Is asking wrong? I don't think so, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the offering portion of church was taken off the menu. If churches stopped prompting their congregants to give would the giving cease?? Without a prompt, would the giver fade away? Does God need us to communicate our needs in order to meet them? Would God speak to me or us and stir our hearts to financially support ministries in the absence of an official request? It’s a heavy and scary question, for me included. Yet with all this wondering, I’m finding myself fantasizing about a church with no financial ask; not because I don’t want to give, but because I’d love to see what God would do in that kind of place. What degree of freedom might flow from an inner prompting rather than an outer one?
Find the Laughter
Life can feel so heavy at times and so quickly I get weighed down by the heartaches of humanity and the struggles of daily living. And then enters the task or joy of parenting. Suddenly I’m a teenager again with emotions I don’t understand and a body I don’t recognize. Seriously…no seriously! I won’t spell it out for you, it’s just not necessary. But I can go from elation to complete sorrow and then back again to on the floor, crying laughter, all within a matter of minutes based on my interactions with my 4 little lovelies. Being a parent…it’s quite a wild thing!
As the “adult” I really do try my hardest to be a level headed, calm, loving and consistent parent. That’s what adults are, right?? Geez, it’s not easy! On some days my family looks completely sane (me included), loving and considerate of one another. I’m so extra proud of all of us on those days. Then some sort of an invisible body snatcher event takes place and everyone wakes up mean and growly. The kids bark at each other about how much space they require on the sofa and argue over the morning cartoon. Then suddenly I’m in the funk right along with them and trying to dig us all out of the rotten mood. Some moments I just have to laugh it off. Cause what else can I do…within reason?
I love it when my kids say ridiculously hysterical things completely unbeknownst to them! My daughter Sofia is possibly our family’s biggest culprit. She’s “spicy”, as we call her. She’s passionate and extreme. One minute she’s pouting and angry and the next she’s hugging and kissing me, declaring her endless love and devotion. She goes from the depths to the rooftops in mere seconds. She’s amazing and filled to the top with all of her emotions without reservation. I really admire that about her!
So…about Sofia and her unintentional humor: On one particular morning this last week, I woke up and decided it was the perfect morning for blueberry muffins. I got to baking and of course we ended up with extra. The very next morning Sofia enters the kitchen ready for breakfast and confidently asks, “Mom, can I please have a muff?” I should probably mention that I was sort of prepped for this possibility (well, not this exact possibility), but she’d started a new thing a week or so earlier of shortening her words down to a sort of nick-name. So “muff” of course was her cute little name for a blueberry muffin. I had such great giggle over it followed by a much needed clarification over the term “muff” and why it isn’t really the best choice of words to describe a muffin.
I have a confession to make… I’ve really had to learn to let myself laugh with my kids. I’m still learning. For many years, I unintentionally withheld pieces of my heart, feeling stuck in the role of boundary setter and enforcer. It felt like a constant, never ending task that stomped out my happiness. I struggled to simply enjoy my kids. Choosing to laugh with my kids is bringing joy to our relationship.
Laughter is so powerful, but it isn’t what holds me; it doesn’t carry me past my parenting fails. Laughter can only take me into my next moment where there’s a possibility that I’ll fail again. It’s God who brings me peace when nothing around me is peaceful. He brings me peace when nothing inside of me is peaceful. But laughter is opening me to love my kids in a way I wasn’t able to before.
Time Travel Sneak Attack!
Wouldn’t it be entertaining to be able travel back in time and sneak up on that tremendously immature, youthful and perky (in soooo many ways) you from 20+ years ago??? Would you cause a panic mentioning all the ‘weightiness’ of your current life; the life that young, naive you could never have been able to fathom? Maybe you would try to spare yourself from a certain, or a number of heartaches or encourage yourself to take a chance on that one especially scary thing and expect great reward.
As I sit in my very impressive looking writing nook, aka, my kitchen, I’m imagining the teenage version of myself attempting to digest the look of my current life. I envision pee running down my young legs and pooling all over the floor…poor thing. Maybe I should feel sorry for her/me. But sadly I think it might have been good for me to experience an awakening of sorts. I needed a broader understanding of life. I wasn’t an old or deep soul as a kid. Maybe I am a bit now, but I’m also literally older, so it’s not as impressive.
As a young adult, I had no idea who I was. I was a late bloomer in many ways. I developed my identity through the observations and opinions of the grown-ups in my life. A true description of the young me would reveal a heap of contradictions. I was a hopeless romantic terrified of commitment, an excessively restrained free spirit. I overflowed with faith and conviction but no true courage to back it up. A little time travel intervention-sneak attack would likely cause a coronary!
I’m a mom to 4 kids. That confession sounds like I’m attending a support group, and honestly on many days I could probably use one! I didn’t grow up dreaming of having 4 little ones largely because of an intense fear I’ve always had of giving birth. All those movie scenes of women sweating, grunting, bleeding, crying and screaming in pain seemed so gruesome to me; almost the making of a horror movie. It’s all so laughable today in light of my reality. I believe that childbirth; though excruciatingly painful and comparable to being turned inside out, is one of the most loving, miraculous and literally life giving actions possible. Even though I didn’t envision such a large family, I love each of my babies more than life and a gaping hole would exist in my heart without any one of them.
Young Kristin would also be surprised to see her future hubs. I didn’t end up marrying the person I thought I would, but I’m immeasurably thankful for that! In my youth, I experienced a major heart break. For a chunk of time, I struggled to see past it. But it was only this ending that allowed the door to open for a far greater beginning and love. That young thing (me) could never have imagined that from rubble could come so much life and beauty.
Youthful me would no doubt object to the current look of things by dramatically screaming, “This is NOT how my life is supposed to look!” I’m reminded of the famous poet, Robert Burns who wrote about the best, most carefully made plans “of mice and men” and how they often still go the wrong way. But I’d venture to say that my best, most carefully made plans that went “wrong” turned out to be my true right. Only the grownup, weathered, confidently loved and stronger version of me (with a healed up heart) can properly understand this.
Finding Calm in the Storm
I love that we’re all created with a safety switch. Just as we’re about to haul off and “fire”; lose our calm and composure all over the place, we can go to that uniquely embedded, divinely placed thing that has the capacity to bring us back to center. For some, it’s a physical activity and for others it’s found in the act of creating. Call it an outlet or a diversion, but we each have it; an interest in something that brings peace to the seas of our lives. Let’s be honest, sometimes we still totally lose it anyway. Guilty! But if we allow ourselves our divinely placed outlet, we find a fresh breeze that regenerates and renews us.
The thing that centers me is writing. It brings me peace and composure. It’s where I think and where I pray. I NEED to write. Like I need to breathe air; I need to write. Maybe more accurately; like I need to swallow. I think, and think on things. I chew on them. Then I write it out. Sometimes it’s really embarrassing and silly. The stuff I would never want to show another living soul much less reread. Actually, I take that back. In the moment it’s sooo brilliant and insightful… almost always. It’s only after a bit of time that I have clarity enough to shred the piece. But my writing is and always has been my mental and emotional swallow. It gets that big bite of whatever I’m sifting through, out of my mouth and into a place where it can properly nourish me and be digested.
Each of us has a unique expression of our talents and it's sacred and deserving of respect. Do the things that bring your life back into focus and create wholesome, unadulterated joy. Be the unashamed, unrestrained, wild you. Release that person you hide away from the scrutiny of others. Sing, dance, jog, paint or like me, write your heart out. Be beautifully you!
Making New Friends
I am convinced that moving has put us, once again, right where we’re meant to be. But in this place of being undeniably and securely placed, there have still been discomforts. It’s not easy to start over. I’m a girl’s-girl. I don’t mean that in the traditional, super glitzy, can’t get dirty sort of way. I'm referring more to the fact that I require girlfriends. I love having other ladies in my life; true blue girlfriends who are deep and soulful but are also good for a belly laugh. I’m not a friend hoarder. I don’t need 50 or even 10. In this season of life, I'm incapable of pouring into more than a handful of friendships well. But in spite of being stretched across the needs of my family and home, leaving little for me, I still have a deep longing to feel known, understood and irreplaceable to my fray-nds. (Side note: The word ‘friend’ has a twang. It’s the way it sounds in my head. I don’t know why. I’m not from the south, so the twang wasn’t put there by God.)
At the time we moved, I had a sense of security and safety in my friendships. I need to confess that the task of making new friends in the Northwest really tugged on almost all of my insecurities for a while. Suddenly I was thrust into the dating world again (in a sense)…but dating friends. I was putting on the best version of myself, trying to be honest and open, but not an over-sharer. I wanted to be fun and funny and interesting. I tried to keep conversation rolling. Ideally, this would be less of an effort and more of an easy exchange. As one who’s been married for a good number of years, I’d kind of forgotten how exhausting the dating process can be. I found that the more I extended my heart and invested in these seemingly uncertain ‘friendships’, the more it felt like something was crawling into my deep, hidden places (hidden even from me) and dragging out all my fears and insecurities for me to look at. They were undeniable and crippling and times. I tried hard to look confident and lighthearted, but on the inside I felt paralyzed by an intense fear of rejection. Isn’t it interesting that after years of working on healing my old wounds, this move had the ability to place me right back where I thought I never be again. I had forgotten what makes me undeniably valuable.
As the fog began to lift and clarity settled back in, what I ended up coming to is this: what I perceive as acceptance or rejection from others is entirely separate from my true and constant acceptable state. I’ve known this for years and years, but my belief had wobbled to the point of a near topple. Being acceptable, lovable and valuable cannot be rooted in the flexible feelings of people (including myself). It’s defined not by partiality, but by the thoughts and statements of the one who creates and defines all. I had to decide to place my security back into the only fixed and immovable source. I chose to anchor my worth again in the one who constantly wants me, loves me and values me- just as I am. (Big exhale). It's honestly a daily choice. I'm easily one overly exhausted, under fulfilled moment away from feeling all the insecurities of yesterday. But today, I feel freer as I take another step into this new chapter of making friends. Truthfully, I'm finding some pretty special fray-nds!
Moving to the Northwest
My family and I recently moved to the Seattle area from Southern California. When we moved we were really dying for a change; change of culture, change of weather and change of standard of living. We longed for quite a number of changes really. Comically, it wasn’t more than 3 years ago that I swore I wouldn’t be taken back to the Northwest. I’m a California girl, born and raised, but we lived in the Northwest, as a family a hand full of years back and I was soooo miserable! It was super cold, wet and so dark on many levels and I was really lonely. After returning to California, having learned a ton about myself but feeling so happy to be home, I boasted pridefully to all who would ask that the only way I would go back to Washington to live would be if God did a massive overhaul on my heart and mind. At that time of my life I was confident that would never ever happen! So…today here I sit, in my driveway (in Washington state) typing away; laughing to myself about all the twists and turns God has maneuvered us though over the years.
Dare I say that I’m happy in the Northwest??? Ok (big humbled gulp) I dare. I AM happy! I must admit. It’s been 6 months. I haven’t been through a solid 4 seasons here yet, but I’m loving it here this time around. I feel like we live in a magical forest where everything is green and lush all year round (for the half that I’ve been here for). The rain is enchanting and renewing, and a little scarce this year (which might be adding to my joy). I’m beginning to find friendship and solidarity with other moms. I’m in love with my neighborhood. I’ve truly never encountered a more welcoming, helpful and open group of neighbors. This among so many other factors leaves me knowing that our home was supernaturally chosen for us!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.