The one thing my kids really want

Maybe your kids aren’t like this, but mine seem to always want something.

It’s Book Fair week at the school, so every day, we’ve had a request for books. I am not opposed to buying books (obviously; you should see our overstuffed shelves) but I’d like to be there to see what they pick out. Phil and I will take a spin through the book fair on parents’ night to find them something they want because I’m not a monster and books are my weakness.

Also, they always want food! I mean it’s not enough that I provide three meals a day, but the snacking is a major deal. Especially now that they’re both in school all day. I knew on the first day of school that they would be hungry when they got home, so I let them pick out a special snack from a couple of cookbooks and we bought what we needed and I made them their special snack.

It was a hit! And then they wanted a special snack the next day! And I knew there was no way I could keep up this streak for 180 days, so I had to come up with a plan. Could I give them a snack every day and make it special without busting our grocery budget or spending a ton of time on it?

The entire first week, one of their first questions off the bus was, “Did you make us a snack?”

There was such hope in the question that I couldn’t say “no” and disappoint them.

Could you tell them "no"? I didn't think so.

Could you tell them “no”? I didn’t think so.

But then came a week where we had a bunch of responsibilities and planning a snack, in addition to planning food for church events, and food for our own meals, was too much. So, I tried an experiment. I made a “special” snack from stuff we had in the house that wasn’t very special at all! (P.S. Do not tell them my secret!)

One day, I slathered some celery sticks with peanut butter and cut up some carrots and put ranch in a bowl. I set them out on plates at the counter, and the kids ate it up! The next day, we were going to have to take a snack with us because we had errands right after school, and the only pre-packaged stuff we buy is for their lunches, so I needed to improvise.

I made a snack mix out of a variety of nuts we had in the pantry. I cut up a fruit twist and a Twizzler and dumped in a bag of cinnamon sugar pretzels. I mixed it all up and gave it some kind of qwirky name and presented it as their special treat for the day. They were skeptical, and some of that stuff they wouldn’t eat on its own, but together, they tried a few bites. They didn’t end up finishing it that day, and that’s how I learned the secret of what my kids really want.

It doesn’t so much matter what I give them for a snack after school. But they want to know that I was thinking of them long enough to make an effort. On the days when I throw out a few options without an apparent plan, there is more grumbling and complaining than when I put something on the counter already prepared. A few days ago our daughter was complaining that she doesn’t like the taste of the baby carrots anymore and doesn’t want them in her lunch. I’m wondering what will happen if I put them out as a snack with a ranch or honey mustard dip. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.

What do my kids really want? I think they want what everyone wants: to be seen and known and heard and loved.

I fail at providing those things all the time, but I see the difference it makes when they know that I was thinking of them.

Maybe that’s all that really matters in any of our relationships: not that we get it right or perfect or that we make it special all the time, but that we make an effort to see and know and hear and love, in all of our imperfect ways.

I’m willing to give it a shot. Are you?

How I’m finding the me I didn’t know was lost

I used to be the kind of person who would snort-laugh and roll her eyes if anyone would have used the phrase, “I need to find myself.” Humor and sarcasm are coping mechanisms I’ve cultivated over the years, and the truth is that I was afraid and maybe jealous.

Because for a lot of years, I didn’t really know who I was.

Mikael Kristenson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Mikael Kristenson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

That never seemed like a big deal until I started to figure it out. Now, it’s like new doors of possibility are flinging open and chains are dropping off my soul.

I didn’t know that the first step in finding yourself is acknowledging that somewhere, somehow you lost yourself. Once you know you’re lost, you can get on with being found.<Tweet that.>ow_whole

I can’t tell you the day or time I realized I was lost, nor can I pinpoint the start of the “finding myself” journey. But I know that so far this year, my year of “whole,” has been unlike any other. As in years past, when I’ve picked a word to focus on for the year, I see the theme in a lot of places. And those previous years of “release” and “enjoy” were important. But this year is becoming transformational in a way I couldn’t imagine.

I’ve been mulling this quote in my mind for a few weeks now.

When we are fully ourselves, He (God) is fully glorified. – “Longing For Paris,” by Sarah Mae

I think I’ve wrongly believed that God is only glorified when I behave a certain way or follow His lead. And He is glorified in those ways, but I never really considered that the me He created me to be brings Him glory, even if I don’t look anything like what I think a child of God should look like.

I have this same problem with my definition of what makes a good mom. My therapist listed out on a white board all the characteristics I thought would make me a good mom and none of them are realistic or accurate. There were a lot of “always” and “never” type of descriptions. (Always happy, never yells, has a clean house, etc.) She reminded me that God picked me to be Izzy and Corban’s mom and who I am is not a mistake for them. (Summer is giving me all kinds of mom guilt because I’m not crafty or entertaining. It’s draining on this introvert mama, and yet I want to spend time with them.)

Being the mom God created me to be brings Him glory and is much better for my kids than trying to become some other kind of mom. And being the woman He created me to be is a far better way to  live than trying to stuff my personality into a box  or conform to a mold that doesn’t fit.

Trying to be anyone other than who I am doesn’t lead to a happy life. It just makes me tired and frustrated. I am finding freedom and joy in saying “no” to what is not good for me and saying “this is who I am” about other things. It’s not always comfortable, but in the end it is good. It is good to admit that I love my kids AND I need a break. That I love Jesus AND I am full of doubt. That I’m glad I am married AND it is hard work.

I must also say that this self-discovery journey is not a solo project. I am grateful for a husband who gives me space and time to be who I am and discover who I am. (Even when that means he’s uncomfortable with my occasional swearing on social media.) The same goes for our church family. There are no boxes that we must fit into to belong. We are free to explore our faith and wrestle with our doubts in the community of saints who gather each week. We are guided and corrected when necessary but no one is turned out because of who they are. (Or who they aren’t.)

This is a gift we can give each other: the space and time and freedom to figure out who we are. It’s an ongoing process, I’m learning, and I’m not sure when or where it ends. All I know is that I want to keep figuring it out.

I recently read, in the span of  day or two, Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior. I’ve been a fan of her Momastery Facebook page and blog for a little while but hadn’t taken the time to read the book yet. (Aside: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.) Her vulnerability inspires me. Here’s one (of many) quotes from the book that spoke to me, especially in this experience:

We find out early that telling the whole truth makes people uncomfortable and is certainly not ladylike or likely to make us popular, so we learn to lie sweetly so that we can be loved. And when we figure out this system, we are split in two: the public self, who says the right things in order to belong, and the secret self, who thinks other things. (Carry On, Warrior, p. 51)

Her story is in the context of addiction and mental illness, but it’s all of us who do this. And  I’m not saying that everyone, everywhere needs to know our deepest thoughts all the time, but there is a way to make the two line up. I think. I hope.

It’s a slow death, but I’m gradually trying to kill that public self who only wants to say the right thing so she doesn’t get rejected. This is what it means to me to be my whole self. To be unafraid to let my secret self have a voice every now and then. To open the door a crack so that others can see that what they perceive is not how it really is.

This whole self stuff leads to relationships. Like, honest-to-goodness ones that survive the hard times. Melton also says:

I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness, and my life-as-a-wild-goose-chase-to-find-the-unfindable. (p. 21)

Knowing and accepting who you are makes you more approachable. Some of my best moments of connecting with other moms are when I talk about how I struggle and we find out we’re all struggling in the same way.

Just one more book quote that’s been helping me along. (If you didn’t already know this about me, books are my community, too.)

Part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love. – Savor, by Shauna Niequist

This devotional by Niequist is one of my favorite things ever, and her writing touches a deep place in my soul. She said this in the context of admitting how much she loves to make and prepare and serve and eat food around the table with people. When I can say without embarrassment or hesitation, I really love to do this, then a part of me opens wider to the world around me. I used to think as a certain kind of woman I had to enjoy all the same things as other women. But I don’t. It’s okay. And my love for one thing does not have to cancel someone else’s love for something else. We are uniquely created by God, and our love for the things He has made us to love is lovely to Him.

What are your thoughts about “finding yourself”? Do you know who you are? And who you aren’t? What has helped you in this process?

The day we planted a garden

A few weeks ago, we planted a garden, our first as a married couple and long overdue. My husband’s gardening genes run deep, and when I first met him, he was working for a nursery (of the landscaping kind, not the children kind). Our previous homes have been apartments or rentals plus who had the time when the kids were still babies and toddlers and he was in seminary?

A garden seemed like too much, a far-off dream. Someday.

But the home we have now, also a rental, has space for such dreams, more if we wanted it, but we decided to start small. My parents and grandparents gave me birthday money to buy plants, so on the first available day, before we missed the planting window, we headed across the street to the home improvement store’s garden center and bought the tools we needed and the plants we wanted.

All dreams start with an investment of money and time, and my husband spent the better part of what was left of the day clearing out the mess that our house’s landscaping had become. To say it had been neglected would be putting it politely. We have lived here two years and our occasional pruning and raking has been a start but not nearly enough. wpid-20150511_142731.jpg

He pulled up the black lanscaping paper that had been buried and torn and was far from pretty. He broke up the rocky soil and the clay, turning it over and over until the black dirt appeared. He added some soil we’d purchased. He stirred and softened and patted it down until the area was almost unrecognizable under his tending.

We plotted the position of our plants and as a family took turns watering and digging and placing the plants in their spots.


Three tomato plants.

Four pepper plants.

A cucumber plant.

Basil and rosemary in a pot on the porch.

Not much, but it’s a start, and whatever the dream we all have to start somewhere.

Eight years ago today, Phil and I planted a garden, we just didn’t know it at the time. 

Photo by Dan Royer

Photo by Dan Royer

We called it the start of a marriage but the analogy is not lost on me that a marriage needs tending as much as a garden.

As he cleared out the weedy overgrown mess, my husband discovered some buried and unproductive bulbs. Tulips, possibly. We saw two bloom this year that we didn’t see last year, so maybe they just need some love.

I found new homes for them, and even though I haven’t a clue if I’m doing them any good, I dug holes and buried them again. Perhaps we will see some blooms next spring?

The kids have acquired some flower seeds from various sources, so we prepared some beds and poked holes in the dirt, dropped in a few seeds, covered them over and watered them.

The next morning they wondered if we’d see any sign of growth yet and I told them it would be weeks for the flowers, months yet until the plants produce food we can eat.

Gardening is planting a promise, an invitation to wait for a good thing to come.

Holy ground, this dirt.

Marriage, too, is the planting of a promise. On the day we say “I do,” what we mean, even if we don’t know it, is that we’re planning to wait around for the good stuff to come.

If a garden starts with the gift of money, the shopping at the garden center, then a marriage starts with a wedding celebration, an infusion of love and joy for the thing we’re about to do.

But we don’t know, at least I didn’t, that after the high of the wedding day comes the hard work. The clearing out of the weedy overgrowth of selfishness and individualism that runs wild in our hearts when left to ourselves. There’s a careful tending of this new living thing, a marriage. At times it is like a seed buried beneath the dirt, dark and dormant yet somehow alive, vulnerable to wind and flooding rains and birds looking for a treat.

Other times it is like a plant transferred from the greenhouse to the ground, leaving an environment of relative safety for one with unknown challenges, an uncertain future.

Part of what has kept me from gardening in the past is the fear that we’ll fail at it. That we’ll have wasted our money and killed a plant that was meant to be life and give food. Fear keeps me from trying something at which I may not succeed.

I entered marriage thinking that success was the only outcome and I wouldn’t have to work at it. I didn’t know that we were leaving the greenhouse to be exposed to the elements of nature, vulnerable to pests and disease.

Planting a garden has made me feel like the mother of a newborn again. Did they survive the night?, I thought on that first morning, with my babes and with our plants.

With marriage, it’s been a bit trickier to measure “success.” We survived the first night, the first week, the first year, but surviving is not the same as thriving.

Eight years we have been in care of this garden, our marriage, and only in the most recent years have we really put in the work it takes to make it grow. We have each dug up tangled roots that have choked the life out of us, and we are more aware of the constant need to weed them from our lives. We take more care to water the garden and bring it into the life-giving light.

And we acknowledge that there are dangers, no matter how friendly they might appear. (Bunnies are cute but their tendency to nibble on the greens is problematic.)

This work, in the garden, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our muscles ache, and our skin bears the burns, but, oh the joy we’ll have when we’re able to bite into that first juicy tomato later in the summer.

This work, in our marriage, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our hearts ache and we bear the scars where we’ve scorched each other with anger and bitterness and selfishness.

But oh the joy when we can taste the fruit of our labors. When we get a tiny glimpse of the growth that is happening. When we can see how the work has been worth it.

At the end of the summer, we will know how we fared, but next year, we will have to work the garden again. There is no easy path if we want to grow our own food.

With each year that passes, we can see how our marriage fares, but daily and weekly and yearly we have to work it. Again and again. Tearing out weeds, watering, protecting, nurturing. There is no easy path if we want our marriage to flourish.

We planted a garden.

We didn’t much know what we were doing.

We have made mistakes.

We have let the weeds overtake us.

We almost gave up on the garden ever producing fruit.

But we are finally, finally, taking small steps toward making this garden grow.

What do I do with the money issue?

I love money.

There, I said it.

I’m not supposed to say it, especially since I also love Jesus. You know, that whole Bible verse about not being able to love God and money at the same time. And the other one about the love of money being the root of evil. It’s not something any God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-reading person should admit to.

And yet. I can’t deny it anymore. wpid-20150423_131110.jpg

I love money. I love earning money for work well done. I love having enough money to pay our bills and buy things we need/want and give to others.

But I also hate money. Especially when there’s not enough. Or someone else has what I perceive as too much money.

Then, I want to find a way to live without money. To simplify my life in such a way that I don’t need as much money just to get through the day.

I love money. I hate money. And I get so frustrated trying to find the middle ground, a place where I can be grateful for what I have without developing an insatiable desire for more.

Money has always meant security for me. If we have enough to pay the bills, then I breathe a bit easier. If we’re cutting it close, I worry. Paying bills and buying groceries and doing the checkbook math give me anxiety until the next payday. And when we come up short, I grasp at any opportunity, however slim, to fix it.

In January, I applied for a part-time work-from-home job I wasn’t qualified for because our income was unexpectedly lower. In the first part of this year, we used our credit card for the first time in years to make up the difference until our tax return came. And because our tax return was later than we expected, the weeks held more anxiety than I wanted, and I was thinking about money. All. The. Time.

Things are better now. Not great but better. And I’m still thinking about money a lot.

How much we have.

How much we need.

How much we’ll get.

It’s a tough spot. In our house, my husband makes the majority of the money and I do the bill paying and budgeting. (I’m terrible at the latter.) My husband has such a generous heart. He always wants to give. And I’m such a worried hoarder that I always want to keep what we have. Just in case. Thankfully, we don’t fight about money. Though, I’m sure we could.

But it’s a problem for me, the whole money=security thing. And I’m tired of pretending it’s not.

Tell me I’m not the only one pretending I don’t love money.

In case that’s not a shocking enough confession for you, let me also say this: I’m a sporadic tither. I used to be pretty great at it. Ten percent or more in the offering plate every time I or we got paid. I believed what they told me, that if I gave God a little, I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. But there are so many weeks that the math doesn’t add up, and I can’t understand why God would want me to write Him a check if it meant I couldn’t feed my family or pay the heat. Yeah, it’s been that bad at times.

What’s the answer? Somebody tell me because I don’t know. I want to do good with what we’re given, and I know I fall short. A budget is a start. Using my talents to earn money is another step.

But what about that whole trusting in God thing?

Last week, in church, we talked about “blessed are the poor,” the words Luke uses. Not the “poor in spirit” that Matthew uses. And the prosperity gospel nonsense of belief leading to material blessing. I have seen God provide for impossible circumstances for our family, in ways we could not have imagined. But I have also seen faithful Godly people struggle to make ends meet for a very long time through no fault of their own. And let’s not even talk about global poverty and the kind of faith among the truly impoverished that puts mine to shame.

I can’t undo that I live in this country. That my husband and I have college degrees. That we have two kids. That the “cost of living” is what it is where we live. (Sure, we could move. But there are always trade-offs.)

So, what can I change?

For starters, my heart. (Why does it always go back to my heart?!) I can choose to not let money be my god by trusting God no matter what. And I have to kill my pride by submitting to a system that helps me track where our money goes. I like to think we spend our money wisely, but I know better. We aren’t extravagant, I don’t think. But we aren’t disciplined, either.

Somehow, there’s a balance between being wise and being gracious. A writer friend recently said that he and his wife don’t make any decisions based on money, either earning it or spending it. And they’ve been in a place of deep debt with desperate need for income. We made that mistake once, and it cost us dearly.

Maybe to tame the money beast I have to acknowledge my fears. What is it I’m afraid of? And why do I think money keeps that fear at bay?

I don’t have any great wisdom for you today. I wish I did. I just felt like I had to put into words what I’ve been wrestling with in my heart and my mind.

Maybe you struggle this way, too. If so, just know you aren’t alone. If not, then maybe you can share your experience with us.

What do you think? How can we relate to money without loving it?

A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.

Why we’re better together

15 people. Teen-aged to middle aged. Families. Couples. Solo travelers. This is the demographic that makes up our team heading to Kenya this summer.

It’s been a long time since I was a member of a team taking a trip, longer still since I was part of a group traveling internationally. Most of my recent travel has been as a couple or a family, with Phil doing much of the planning (or us collaborating) and the decisions and finances ours alone.

On those distant-memory trips, I was a college student, serving at a children’s home in Oklahoma or in a community hit by hurricane in North Carolina. I was traveling with other college students in Europe, some trips pre-planned, others a little more spontaneous.

Once, I ventured off on my own to walk through the museum at Wimbledon, where the tennis tournament is played. I was slightly obsessed with Pete Sampras at the time and needed to see the actual place, as long as I was close. I remember boarding the train and leaving my friends on the platform in London. I shed a couple of tears because I wasn’t the sort of person who was confident about traveling on her own. But I recovered and set off on a memorable adventure. Relief filled me when I was reunited with my friends. (There was another time when I rode the train by myself from Grantham, England to Edinbourgh, Scotland to meet my friends who had set out a day ahead of me. Together, we then traveled to the Isle of Skye. But I’ll stop now with the memories before I become homesick for a home that’s not a home.)

Solo travel is not my preferred way because I don’t always trust myself with the details. Also, there’s no one else to lean on if things should go wrong. But teamwork takes some getting used to if it’s been a while, and for a recovering control freak (that’s me!), teamwork takes patience and trust, things of which I am often in short supply.

Let me tell you about my recent teamwork experiences, though. They are making me believe, again, that solo travel is not my preferred way through life, either. That life is better together, even when it’s hard.

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Our Kenya team recently organized and planned and pulled off a silent auction and luncheon as our second fund-raising event. I confess that when it comes to fund-raising, my efforts are dismal. I don’t like to sell things and since we live in an area that’s not our home, we can’t even beg our families to support us, at least not when we’re selling things. In our efforts to raise money through local events, I have felt like our contribution has been minimal. I beat myself up about whether we’re doing enough to help. Many of our friends are part of the church and would already support the team. And our families are supporting us in other ways (namely, watching our kids while we’re gone, for which we’re hugely thankful).

It is easy for me to feel like I’m not giving enough because my standards for myself are so high. Combined with insecurity and a desire to please people, I constantly feel like I’m not pulling my weight. And not just with this team, but with any team I’m on. My value is linked to my perspective of how I’m contributing, and in my eyes I’m always coming up short.

Maybe everyone else feels that way, too, I don’t know. What I do know is that my view changes when I consider all the different and necessary ways each member of the team contributes.

Prior to the auction, several of us were collecting donations. Some did shopping for food and other supplies. Others worked on publicity for the event. There were people prepping food in the days leading up to the event. And on the day of, there were people setting up the auction items, baking the potatoes, preparing the toppings. There were people serving food and organizing the auction and cleaning up trays and washing dishes. At times that day I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but at the end of the day, when nearly all the auction items had been claimed, I was satisfied.

Because it was truly a team effort. Sure, I didn’t have anyone there who was bidding on items, but I had people who had contributed items. And the items I had collected for the event were bid on by someone I didn’t know. And maybe I couldn’t help set up but I washed dishes (along with a dynamite team of teenagers who dried dishes and who make me think the teenage years, when they come, are going to be just fine).

The mark of a good team is having a variety of skills and abilities present and everyone using those skills and abilities to help the team’s cause. My job as a member of any team is not to do all the work but to do the work I’m able to do and to let other people do the work they’re able to do. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but in recognizing my tendency to control, I’ve learned that it’s okay to not do it all, even if I think I could do it better. (I can’t.) wpid-img_3661.jpg

That same weekend my friend Alison and I taught a writing workshop on blogging at a one-day conference our writers’ group puts on. A few days before, Alison was sick with some kind of super-illness and there was a chance she wasn’t going to be feeling well enough to lead it with me. We’d designed the workshop to suit our styles and expertise: I talked about some of the philosophies and principles of blogging while Alison focused more on the technical side of things. It’s a great workshop (if I’m allowed to say so) that balances a lot of information, and the thought of teaching the whole thing myself terrified me because I don’t understand the technical side of blogging the way Alison does.

Fortunately, she was well enough that day to teach, and the workshop was better for it. We each did our part and did it well. We make a great team.

And it’s the same in my marriage, when I let it be. Phil and I are a team. We’re working together toward the same goal. We each have qualities that contribute positively toward our marriage and what needs to be accomplished. One example: yesterday while I was out of the house, he organized the dirty dishes for me, sorting them so like items were with like items (and yes, we have enough dirty dishes in our house that they need to be sorted so they don’t overtake our entire kitchen). I don’t understand why it’s easier for me to wash dishes when they’re sorted, but it is, and he knew that and it helped me get a better handle on the cleaning.

On the days when I think I’d be better off going it alone, whatever the circumstance, I think about the value of team work. About inviting other people into my life. How much better it is to work alongside people and share the burdens.

We’re better together, you and I. I hope you know that, too.

What is your reaction to team work?

Are you open to sharing the load or are you more of a control freak?

How do you invite other people into your daily life?

The ‘whole’ truth {a stop in the #OneWord365 journey}

Not far from our place is a house overlooking the river. A few months ago it was for sale, and it wasn’t on the market long. A ranch-style house, it wasn’t as spectacular or flashy as some of its neighbors, but its location is prime. I didn’t think much of it until we drove past one day and the house was gutted and the roof was off.

The new owners, apparently, are taking the frame of the house and turning it into something of their own. They’ve added a second story and a bay window and what the house is becoming is unrecognizable from what it was when they bought it. ow_whole

Transformation can feel like this–a tearing down and a rebuilding–and that’s the theme so far of my OneWord365 journey this year.

In becoming “whole” I’ve first become a whole lot more broken.

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent. — Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, by William Butler Yeats

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention, a chronicle of her marriage. She quotes this poem by Yeats, and I can’t stop thinking about it. That to become whole I must first be torn.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months and that’s what this process feels like sometimes. A shredding of who I thought I was, of what I believed. A ripping apart of the falsehoods. An exposing of the inner wounds. I leave the office sometimes having shed more tears in an hour than in the weeks prior, and though I am often exhausted by the emotional and spiritual toll of the work, the days afterward are healing and I feel more like my true self. More whole.

How it works, I don’t completely understand. How healing comes from brokenness, wholeness from pieces, I don’t know. But I can feel it inside. Every time I am torn by the pain of the past, every time I bring it into the light, I am one step closer to the me I lost.

I am almost glad I didn’t know this was part of the journey. I might not have started it had I known.

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This L’Engle book is convincing me that her life and words have much to say to my own. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, and this is an unconventional place to start, I would guess. A Wrinkle in Time sits on my shelf in the to-read pile but I needed her words on marriage more.

She says of the union:

And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. (103)

This, too, is a mystery. I knew when I got married that two became one and something new was created, but I didn’t understand that I could still be me, too. We are two individuals living in communion, and I do not have to give up who I am to be his wife.

The losing of me is no one’s fault except my own. For many years, I couldn’t tell you what I liked. I wouldn’t make my own decisions or form my own opinions for fear of losing friends. Even in my early Christian experiences I felt the need to conform to be part of the group. Though I might have had my own thoughts, they were masked depending on the situation.

I remember a time in college when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies we loved. After someone named one, I would declare, “That’s the best!” I must have said the words a dozen times for a dozen different movies until someone called me out: “They can’t all be the best.” I didn’t even know I was doing it. A few years later, a friend asked me what my favorite cake was. She was going to bake it for my birthday. I had no answer, so I told her white cake with white frosting. (How boring is that!?) No offense if that’s your favorite, but it wasn’t mine. It was just the safest choice. (For the record, the answer is Boston Cream Pie. Or ice cream cake.)

Becoming whole means accepting me for who I am and who I could be. It means discovering my wants, needs and likes and not being afraid or ashamed of them. I feel like I’ve only recently begun to get to know myself. Some days I’m sad that it took so long, but I’m trying to be grateful that it’s happening at all.

A few years ago after our marriage crisis, we attended a one-day marriage workshop that my husband helped plan at his school. One of the therapists leading the workshop led us in an exercise to build a bridge or some kind of structure using uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows, I think. I have no gift for envisioning a strategy but Phil immediately had a plan. We set to work and when the time was up, we hadn’t gotten as far as some of the others. I was feeling bad about our seemingly failed attempt when the therapist went around the table pointing out the positive attributes of each structure.

“Phil and Lisa’s might not be very tall, but it’s solidly built. It’s going to hold up over time.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but the thought behind them. They were perfectly timed, and she had  no idea what we’d been through. I hang onto those words, still, for me and our marriage and the path that we’re on.

I may have gotten a late start on knowing myself, but I’m building a foundation that will support something I can’t yet see. It’s not about how tall or fast or soon but how firm the foundation. How solid the frame.

I may yet discover more tearing down, more shredding that needs to be done. Maybe that’s always part of the process. But I’m looking forward to the piecing back together. The rebuilding and restoring.

Most of all, I know now that broken isn’t always bad. Nor is it the end.

Sometimes broken has to come before whole.