“To love at all is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis
Back when Mike was in graduate school, his grandparents lived about two hours away and we would visit from time to time. Not super consistently, and not as much as his Grandma would have liked, but we did. I remember the anxiety leading up to these visits – the conversations about when we’d eat, what we’d eat, and a laundry list of ways I could avoid offending my vastly different, Southern-cultured Grandma-in-law.
The last time we all got to go visit her there, we spent much of an afternoon fishing the front lawn for pecans. There was a pecan tree in the dead-center of their yard that was planted (at the time) 50 years prior – when Mike’s Dad, Keith was young – giving it especially high personal value as his grandparents watched something their only son had presumably done for years before us. There was nothing special about it, but somehow doing a mindless chore and living undistracted brought enough peace to my soul that even Mike noticed. There was a piece of my soul that came alive in the nothingness.
That’s what today felt like. We got to go to the beach as soon as everyone was up and running, and played with the kids making sand castles, finding seashells, and sitting still with our toes in the sand. This scene felt like foreign mythology in the last year – maybe heard of, but unrecognizable, both culturally and figuratively. It felt as reachable as the Holy Grail and maybe still further. The whole year was an ongoing hamster wheel of successes without clear direction. Hard work with no end in sight.
It was tiring, maddening, and draining. I’m sad to think that those are the words that I’d use to describe Isaac’s first year of life, and in other ways, I think that I would not have done anything differently. Isaac was born at the end of 2014, we lived together with my brother-in-law until September, I took on Bradley, Mike took on his ARE exams. I think we fed crazy with more crazy because life was already – as you might have predicted – crazy. So what’s more crazy on top of some crazy?
By the end of the year, our marriage felt the blows of insanity more than anything else. After explaining it to a friend and apologizing for sounding presumably cynical about this phase of life, I asked her if I sounded as bad as I felt I did. She looked at me and said after much thought, and noticeable compassion, “you sound tired”. I did feel tired. I am tired. I felt like her evaluation gave me the freedom to go a little easier on myself – on all of us. Around that time, Mike and I had some heart-to-hearts and decided that we needed to make adjustments and solidify some boundaries. Boundaries felt so awkward – and they still do, frankly. Boundaries for me feel like quitting or being less than which as I’ve come to learn, is a really, really big deal in my personal ideology. Even more so, my identity.
There is nothing that could state the sacrifice of this year quite like this: I had to give up being the best. And in some ways, I had to give up being me, and put on Christ for what felt like the first time.
I started going to therapy, and began filtering out my personal processing with “Is this for God’s Kingdom or mine?”. Basically, why am I doing what I’m doing? The answer came with resounding floods of ‘for mine’. My impeccably cared for and crafted kingdom. My pretty, beloved kingdom. My hard-earned kingdom. My precious kingdom that was wrecking my more precious life and the more precious lives in it. And a result, my worthless, life-sucking kingdom.
It wasn’t that I wouldn’t have identified as a Christian, or that I didn’t live with Christian conviction (I felt I did), but that I really hadn’t disrobed the single most significant place I found my own identity. In some ways, it’s felt more like removing an extra limb – a third ‘helping’ hand. For most of my life, I didn’t look at having this additional appendage as a problem, but a resourceful tool in getting more done. As a Christian, this was easily masked (from myself too) for the purpose of doing more for God. The problem was I wasn’t doing what God asked by clothing myself in Christ or making time for rest or fun. And I was burning out at an increasingly fast rate.
Personally, the only way I see rest as good is to get more work done the next day. It’s hard for me to rest independent of a goal (that’s clearly an understatement). Everything in life felt like a competition – even with Mike. I noticed that after a lifetime of favoritism, being the best meant also being the favorite. I started to see it with my kids – I was afraid of not being their favorite parent. I was afraid of working because I didn’t want them to think that I favored anything more than them because they were my best. I was afraid of them being less than their own best (especially with Marin after having Isaac). I was overwhelmed that I wasn’t the best friend to my friends, or the best kid, or any relationship to any relative in my family. I was crippled from not making the best photobooks to not making the best decisions with finances or our kids’ education (see everything I’ve written about Marin this year for further evidence). Everything to me had to be the best – because it was not only that I wanted to be described as the best or favorite, but it was my actual identity. It was so much more than my primary adjective, it was the very drum I beat to at my core.
As such, to be less than the best, felt like disowning myself and turning my back on all I’d held as of utmost importance to date. I started to struggle to do things (more than ever) ‘for the fun of it’. The hardest was with the kids. What started as ‘survival with two kids’ snowballed into forcing myself to time limits of playing with Marin and not cleaning. Unbinding myself and disassociating my identity, value, and priorities from my to-do list has felt excruciatingly painful for me. It’s felt ungratifying, uneventful, pitiful. It’s made me thank God for the amount we traveled and I had to leave our apartment – those four walls felt binding and working in the space I lived complicated things (to put it lightly).
I still don’t look at fun or rest or any of it as desirable, but I feel that it’s necessary. More importantly, I know that it is. As we scroll over social media posts and see pictures of Boston’s first snowfall, I can’t help but want to dig my toes a little deeper in the sand and hope they anchor me enough to keep from leaving here again. I feel the anxiety creeping up of another winter ahead, of layers upon layers on tiny, wiggly bodies, or feelings of entrapment, impossible parking, and icy roads. I feel it as real as the 90 degree weather, sunshine, and the ocean breeze at the beach today. I feel the pace speeding up as we go from Boston to New Hampshire back to Boston next week and suddenly the typically irritating slowness here feels instead increasingly comforting.
I know this last paragraph is opening myself to a flood of comments on moving back here, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. Rather, I want to take a little bit of this pace and this peace back with me. To start a new year with a new identity and the goals and objectives that follow suit. Usually the days and years blur together, but it’s my hope that 2016 will begin with its own distinction and newfound direction. It’s my goal that with this renewed freedom in Christ, 2016 will be absolutely magical.