Me…all alone! What an amazingly exhilarating thing! I’ve come to a place in my life where ANY legitimate escape fills me with delight. I never imagined that I’d be relishing the solitude of a medical waiting room, but I certainly am! In spite of the accentuated elevator music, I’m basking in this moment, not willing to let it just slip through my fingers undervalued. I’m beginning to wonder if my joy over my solitude is so obvious that even the chair (which is soooo squishy that it’s embracing not just my rear, but also my hips and my slight muffin top too) is also aware of my glee. Truthfully, even my hiney is happy! So…clearly I’m a mom, who, in this moment, is breathing in her own pocket of air, not sharing it with little people…and it’s completely brilliant!
Oh to be an acclimated mom! I remember the early days when solo excursions left me feeling far less than ecstatic. I used to venture out alone only to be filled with awkwardness and anxiety. The sort of sensation I imagine I might have, had I somehow misplaced one of my body parts only to find that there’s no hope for functioning properly without it…this appendage obviously being my child(ren). Today is NOT one of those times!! In spite of the ridiculous music, this waiting room is a perfectly lovely spot for creating a (childless) 'Cone of Silence'-esque space for my thoughts and my pen.
Being alone at home is NOTHING like being out! Something about finding alone time at home drudges up feelings of guilt and anxiety for me. There are always things pulling at me, reducing my ability to just exhale and appreciate the moment. Sometimes I force all memory of those mounding ‘to dos’ out of my mind, but then the thought that I’m not taking time to be present with my kids, fills me with disappointment in myself. Is it true that all mothers carry around with them a growing satchel of guilt? You know…a satchel: a huge and heavy hobo-ish guilt-filled bag, slung over one shoulder causing a limp and a stoop, reminiscent of a hunchback. I’m pretty sure all us mamas stumble around with a guilt induced gimp. It seems that there must be an emotional prerequisite for motherhood. Someone deemed us all perfectly fit for the task because we quickly and easily feel breathtaking levels of needless guilt. While we’re there, we should probably throw in codependency for good measure, because what good is motherhood without a touch of codependency…right??
Yes, clearly I’m being sarcastic, but being a mom is HARD! It’s a full day, every day, of trying our absolute best. We end the day by tucking our sweet little lovies into bed and promptly sinking deep into a sofa, flopping onto the bed (face and belly first) or melting into the floor for a good hardy cry, hoping we did it well and that we don’t have to ask for forgiveness for everything and then start from scratch tomorrow. It’s truly arduous!
But it’s also incredible, and only a parent can really understand that. All others (non-parents) easily connect with the negative and taxing portions of parenting. It’s understandable, they’re easily observable by the stranger who unhelpfully assesses, “Wow, you really have YOUR hands full!”, as I’m attempting to wrangle my 4 kids, maneuver a shopping cart and navigate the aisles of my neighborhood grocery store. But then, sometimes the day ends beautifully when out of the blue, after saying goodnight, I hear my son’s sweet voice holler after me, “I love you forever” and of course I answer, “I love you forever too!” and still he continues, “I love you even more than that!” Words like these seem to wash all the worries of life in the trenches of motherhood away, like a cleansing rain. They give me hope that in spite of the drama, the crazy and the mundane, all of my intentionality leaves an impression on my childrens’ hearts, and they know they are deeply loved.
I imagine that since the dawn of time, wise and haggardly graying men and women have said to the young (in crackling old-people type voices), “The older I get…the less I know”. I’m convinced that there might even be cave paintings somewhere dating back to the days of Cro-Magnon depicting this concept. The pictures likely confusingly contain images of buffalo and hunters wielding spears, but the message is undeniable.
I, as we all did, grew up hearing this humble message. It didn’t use to make sense to me, being the family ‘know-it-all’. Now, as I watch each year whip past me, I’ve found that I have a growing and deepening awareness that there’s little I understand about this enormously crazy thing called ‘life’ and even less, by the day, that I understand about God. One might surmise that coming to this realization could have the capacity to completely devastate me; spiraling me into a vast depression over a loss of (perceived) control. But, as it turns out Weezer was right; unraveling my tightly knit sweater of beliefs has been more a journey towards freedom (just not in the naked sense, and not so much lying on the floor…well, maybe a little). For all those who are lost with the reference to sweaters, lying and the floor and unraveling, here’s a link.
I really did believe I knew a great many things. Through all those years of being staunchly convinced that I understood the mysteries of life, I was not just nauseating company (I imagine), but I was also forcing and restricting my understanding of those things into an organized little box; a tiny and boundary laden box. In deciding that I understood, I was arrogantly unaware that I was limiting my experience and shrinking my God.
I’ve come to understand that revelation pours from struggle and my current struggle has birthed an essential epiphany. All those great spiritual one-liners, those organized answers and solutions are actually more painful than helpful. I'm chief barer of guilt! I absolutely dispensed those “charming” spiritual nuggets, like offering a swift shot of something strong as I attempted to dull the ache others felt, of which I couldn’t comprehend. In the face of true life trauma (not my own), I felt helpless, worthless and wordless. Now all those quick Christian answers I grew up spouting have entirely crumbled because God can’t be effortlessly summed up in a few syrupy words and neither can the remedy for our wounds.
These revelations are rather elementary; I’d say cave-lady (Cro-Magnon) level. It feels laughable that it’s taken me so much of my life to possess this layer of understanding. But as each misjudgment is peeled away, I feel a greater capacity, than I had yesterday, to love and empathize with the struggles of other. And here's where I break out my quaking vibrato voice (to sound exceedingly old and wise) and proclaim with fervor that, the older I get, the less I know, and it's truly a freer place to live from.
Long before Daniel Tiger was gracing our tellies and captivating our toddlers, a human face filled our living rooms and our hearts. He loved us as we were and encouraged the curiosity within. That face was that of Fred Rogers. For many of us 70’s and 80’s kids (that’s 1970’s and 80’s), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a piece of our day, a part of our lives. He was our neighbor and the embodiment of all that was good and wholesome in the world. As each episode began, out of the TV would protruded a spectacular bubble of safety and belonging that would envelope and catch me as it expanded out into my home. Yes, I agree…that sentence sounded exceptionally goopy; dripping with balmy and excessive adoration. But I can’t help but feel flooded with happiness when I think of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
My family recently discovered that our much loved show has suddenly become available on Netflix. My older two lovies haven’t seen the show in years and barely have any recollection of it. My younger two have only heard romanticized rumors of the man; the legend (Mr. Rogers), as though he were a noble mythological character. Public Broadcasting stopped airing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood around the time my son was 2 years old. He used to love watching it and I still love reminding him of his favorite episode as a little guy. In this specific episode, Mr. Rogers takes a ride on a school bus. It left such an impression on Christian. He was so fascinated by the enormous yellow vehicle and captivated by Mr. Rogers that for a couple years he was convinced his future school experience would include a Mr. Rogers chaperoned bus adventure. If only life could be so perfect…
The other day, shortly after we’d made our little Netflix discovery, I fired up the classic series for nostalgia sake. All my kids were instantly smitten. Even my “cool kid”, Christian, who’s now 9, was engrossed. All this led him to ask, “Mom, do you still like Mr. Rogers?” I knew he was looking for permission to be a fan, even at his age.
Being reunited with our old friend brought me to discover that there is a website in honor of Fred Rogers which offers a quote of the week. It just so happens that this week’s quote from our very own Mr. Rogers is this: "Transitions are almost always signs of growth, but they can bring feelings of loss. To get somewhere new, we may have to leave somewhere else behind." I couldn’t help but think about how profound that statement truly is. It’s pretty basic, but for some reason the most simple concepts can end up being the most profound. These truths are usually so simple and basic that we give hardly any of our thoughts to them. Then someone utters them plainly, and suddenly they resonate deep within us with such purity and angelic enlightenment, as if heaven itself had opened up and started singing…with a beam of shimmering radiance illuminating the moment (of course).
My family has been going through a transition of sorts. Life has changed and we’ve felt a loss. We know that greater things are ahead, but leaving “somewhere else” behind has been painful. Finding this little quote actually felt timely. It comforted me much more than I imagined it would. It kind of puts into words the feeling of having a friend just sitting near, patting my leg lovingly and knowingly and saying, “it’s OK to feel sad”. These ordinary words strung together, awakened a hope within me and in the midst of my gloom, I could hear a gentle voice saying “you’re not alone”.
I’m just going to say it…I hate schmoozing. I really dread it. A room brimming and buzzing with unknown people is the first sign of a great big adventure for many, but for me, it’s just limitless potential for awkward and surface-level conversation. It’s certainly not as unpleasant to me as the thought of treading water in the middle of the vast ocean with hundreds or thousands of feet of dark water surrounding me and God only knows what populating the space below. But for me, nearly every anticipation of a stranger-filled mingle produces an inner grimace and groan. I can fake clever, witty and comfortable and I might even appear to be enjoying myself (and maybe…for a second here and there I am), but just below my convincingly confident and chatty exterior there’s angst.
With all my years in church, I’ve come to understand that it’s not “Christian” to dread the “turn and greet your neighbor” time of a church service, but if I’m going to be honest, it’s a struggle for me, especially in a new church where I know basically no one. I know I can’t be the only one who’s uncomfortable. One of my major issues is that receiving and conveying genuine care and interest within the boundaries of a few meager minutes feels so unattainable for me. There are a handful of ways I’ve noticed people trying to escape the compulsory greeting. Some people slip out sneakily from the sanctuary to avoid it all together. And then there are the congregants who plop busily into their seats to nose around in their belongings as if to queue others to find someone else to connect with. And I really don’t think I’m imagining that stiff, hesitant side-turn of my neighbor. I see it play out, over and over again around the sanctuary. I truly don’t blame any of these people, I’ve been guilty of all the avoidance techniques and likely the clumsiness too.
With all this admission of my stranger stress, I absolutely don’t mean to say that I don’t desire, need and greatly value friendship. It’s very much the opposite! I don’t do life well without a deep sense of belonging and connectedness. I long to feel wanted by my friends and my constant desire is that I would fill a “Kristin-sized” hole in each of my friends lives and they in turn would come to fill a unique void seemly created just for them. But getting from the place of spotting a potential fray-nd to arriving at the intersection of comfortable and vulnerable can feel like a tremendous journey.
So…the reason I’m coming out of my reclusive closet (of sorts) is because I’ve been challenged to look at my introverted and “lone-ranger” tendencies. A common thread has been running through the conversations I’ve been having and it has woven its way into my thoughts. What (might you ask) is this mighty inspiration? It’s the concept of community.
In our modern, bustling society we don’t do community anymore, at least not in the way it was intended to impact us. We used to live side by side and raise children together. We used to plow our fields and harvest crops together. We used to do life and share life together, side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Now we’re all so spread out and spread thin, that finding a place to fit relationships can be challenging, and even when we find the time, others may not have room for it. Life can leave us feeling isolated even while being surrounded by masses of people. And then there are those who literally avoid human interaction all together. It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks ago that I nearly lost my mind on an unsuspecting shopper. In this person’s defense, my frustration with feeling ignored by fellow shoppers and treated as part of the aisle had approached its boiling point in me. As I, and this other shopper approached each other coming from opposite directions of an aisle, we twice nearly chose the same path but without ever looking up from her cell phone, this shopper adjusted her path…and never once looked at me even though we nearly smashed into each other. I was shocked by the lack of human interest and even though I didn’t have any connection with this individual apart from our near collision, the whole experience made me feel very sad and alone.
I really believe that sharing our lives with others is a large portion of what we were designed for. We weren’t meant to be alone (Gen. 2:18). I’m not my best ‘me’ in isolation. I think we were all made to be enhanced by the companionship of others. My healthiest seasons and greatest moments of revelation have sprung from a deep sense of connection with others.
So maybe the greeting time at church is a puny attempt at connecting people, and maybe for me it very sadly misses the mark, but I believe that the heart of the issue and the reason for the attempt is valuable. We all need community.
I took a deep breath and plunged into the sea of people. I weaved through the room holding tightly to Mia’s little hand while Sofia clutched the tail of my coat. It was wall to wall bodies in a bitty cafeteria with students filling all the tables to overflowing and parents clogging all the pathways to anywhere. Excitement filled the air as giddy little girls squealed and squeezed each other and boys cloaked their excitement in nonchalant, casual smiles.
It’s already starting again; the wild, whirlwind of a new school year. The wake up early, stumble down stairs, brew coffee, make lunches, get everyone ready and off to school, dash has begun! My little Sofia has stepped into the jungle of kindergarten! She was so brave in the face of this colossal milestone. I watched her sit confidently in her seat while some of the little faces around her, moist with tears, struggled to let go of their parents. Others looked around anxiously for a sense of belonging in their great, big new world. I honestly can’t remember my first day of kindergarten. I have no idea if I was insecure or excited. Did I have a little “fray-nd” waiting for me or was I lonely? I had no big sister or brother to venture out before me, paving and smoothing the sometimes emotional path to school. I was the big sis.
My sweet Mia seemed like such a mature and grown-up kid; unfazed by her first day of 3rd grade. She was entirely in her element again, walking the halls of academia: her second home and old friend. That girl LOVES to learn! She’s a classic "Type A” personality, over-achiever and teacher’s pet. And I swear, that someday she’ll be nostalgically writing (like her mama, and a long line of mamas before her because Mia loves to write). I can imagine her writing about the smell of her school, from the bathrooms to the library and the warm pages of paper fresh off the copier, the sound of the bell, the morning pledge and the thrill she experienced at the start of each day as she anticipated each new adventure. My Mia: the learner.
All these things are so familiar…only this year things feel different and they look a bit different too. We’re embarking on a new adventure with our son: the adventure of homeschooling. If I could do a cheer to represent the way I feel about this, it might sound like a very limp and hollow “woop-woop”. I’m not one of those moms who have always yearned to homeschool. I grew up in the 80’s when home school kids had the unfortunate reputation of being socially awkward. I never imagined that I’d homeschool, homeschooling sort of chose us. Life turned a corner and homeschooling felt like the best, most loving approach for our son who struggles in school and could use a little extra attention and support right now.
As I inch closer, towards the scary new frontier of homeschooling, I can’t help but want to glean all that I can from the seasoned internet moms out there. They already know what to expect because they've conquered it before (multiple times) and they're confidently dispensing advice. But with each “joy filled” homeschooling article or blog that I read, I feel a cynicism and frustration building inside me. The bounce in their step and the seemingly singular focus on child-rearing…it feels too squeaky clean. Where are the honest emotions?? I’m left wondering if there’s anyone out there like me. Are there any homeschool moms who aren’t bubbling over with joy at the thought of homeschooling? Are there any ladies out there who never fathomed they’d be doing this, but now they are? Does any homeschool mama write about her lack of joy? I guess I do…
I’m clearly petrified of the road ahead. My precious boy is not at all like his sister, Mia, who loves to learn and also relishes the thought of extra homework. Christian…well, he sort of loathes school (to put it gently). He’s a brilliant, sweet-hearted kid who would be contented and likely thankful, to never be forced to learn another complicated concept for the rest of his life. Seriously, If I’ve ever needed God’s strength it’s now! I know that I sound borderline, grotesquely dramatic, but I am so desperately aware of the weightiness of this task. Thankfully, in this near breakdown moment, the hideously cheesy chorus, “Jesus, take the wheel!” has just begun playing on my mental sound track and I’m swiftly carried to peaks of lightness and absurdity as I imagine this song being the perfect backdrop for a slightly irreverent but not overly disrespectful SNL (Saturday Night Live) sketch.
Is it weird that in this soul-searching season of life, I have found solace and comfort in the words of Dori (the cartoon fish from the movie "Finding Nemo")?? The phrase, "Just keep swimming", is actually a pretty powerful and momentum building thought. Dori's words remind me that all I have to do is place one foot in front of the other (over and over)...and that's it! As I reduce this major life challenge down to steps, little forward movements, I begin to feel like I can breath again.
21 "This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness."
Lamentations 3:21-23 (NASB)
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.